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Congress: Vote by week's end?

The Senate Finance Committee may have the votes to push through its version of health reform by week's end, AP reports.

"Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are gripped with a renewed sense of urgency in their effort to pass healthcare reform," The Hill writes, adding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's "decision to keep the Senate in session for the week of Columbus Day is a clear indication that Democrats are anxious." And "despite their refusal to set firm deadlines in public, Senate Democrats are well into endgame discussions about the floor bill will look like. Several liberal Democratic senators said they have already discussed with Reid the importance of including a government-run health insurance plan in the final Senate bill. Colleagues have also discussed with Reid the process for considering amendments and how much weight should be given to provisions drafted by the Finance panel."

Numbers game: "A debate among House Democrats over whether to include a government-run health insurance option in the broader healthcare legislation now comes down to a counting exercise. Answering a challenge laid down by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Congressional Progressive Caucus and several other caucuses have started a "whip count" to demonstrate that a public option tied to Medicare rates plus 5 percent can pass the chamber. The centrist Blue Dog Democrats, who oppose that approach, have responded with a survey of their own, seeking a whip count from their 52 members to determine how close they are to blocking that public option." Speaker Pelosi has "signaled increased willingness to consider the Blue Dogs' version of a public option rather than the liberals' Medicare-based plan."

Congress' Iran sanctions: "Lawmakers are readying tough new sanctions against Iran in the wake of its recent disclosure of a second secret nuclear facility," The Hill reports. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) "said he planned to combine several bills -- including measures that would sanction companies that supply Iran with gasoline imports, expand restrictions to oil and gas pipelines and tankers and enable Americans to divest from energy firms doing business in Iran -- into one package. Dodd plans to hold a Banking Committee hearing on Iran on Oct. 6 and have legislation ready the week after." But "if Congress were to pass new sanctions on Iran, it would be Capitol Hill's first major action taken against the Middle Eastern nation since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act passed in 1996... Critics of imposing more sanctions argue that the law accomplished little, considering Iran has moved steadily along with its nuclear program since then. In addition, proposals now being considered by Congress could end up hurting the business interests of U.S. allies who sit on the United Nations Security Council," like China and Russia.

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) introduced climate change legislation yesterday that "calls for a 20 percent emissions cut by 2020, tougher than the 17 percent cut the House bill that narrowly passed in late June called for, and a greater than 80 percent cut by 2050." President Obama praised the bill, saying it brings the country "one step closer to putting America in control of our energy future and making America more energy-independent." The bill was also, however, "immediately criticized" by Republicans and some Democrats. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) called its requirements 'a disappointing step in the wrong direction.' "Many details were left out of the initial draft, including how to divvy up emissions allowances that will be worth tens of billions of dollars a year. Responsibility for that rests in part with the Senate Finance Committee, now tied up with the healthcare debate."

"Sen. Sherrod Brown holds the key to delivering a bloc of Midwestern senators crucial to passing climate change legislation that faces strong bipartisan opposition," The Hill writes. "They understand a couple big things about this," Brown said of Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry who released a draft of their legislation Wednesday. ""They don't get the votes from Midwestern industrial-state senators unless manufacturing is a major component of this." And: "For starters, Brown thinks the Senate climate change bill needs to invest significantly more to help U.S. manufacturers, which face a competitive disadvantage with companies in China and other countries with less strict environmental rules. Perhaps most controversially, Brown wants the Senate to consider imposing tariffs on foreign competitors operating in countries with lax rules for greenhouse gas emissions."