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First thoughts: Public option or bust

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Public option or bust: For the past several weeks, we've wondered whether progressives were crazy for turning the public option into the Holy Grail of the health-care debate. After all, neither Obama nor the other Democrats running for president ever made it a central part of their health-care pitches during the campaign. Also, according to estimates, a public option would attract just some 12 million Americans (about the size of Illinois). And most important of all, the 60 votes to avoid a filibuster didn't seem to be there. As a result, the C.W. has always been that there would be no public option in the Senate bill -- or, at most, you'd have the so-called "trigger." But due to liberal pressure, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced yesterday that the Senate legislation will contain a compromise "opt out" public option provision. It was a stunning development, and if a public option is included in the final bill, you've got to credit the progressive community (liberal senators, MoveOn, HCAN, PCCC, HuffPo) for fighting for it, even if it once looked like a quixotic quest.

*** Baucus is on board; what about Conrad? But getting 60 votes -- i.e., convincing moderate Dems like Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, et al, not to be a part of any filibuster -- still is going to be tricky for Senate Democrats and the White House. Yet if this statement from Max Baucus is any indication, momentum could be on their side. "I included a public option in the health reform blueprint I released nearly one year ago, and continue to support any provision, including a public option, that will ensure choice and competition and get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate," said Baucus, whose Senate Finance Committee bill DID NOT include a public option. "Success should be our threshold and I am going to fight hard for the 60 votes we need to meet that goal this year." Then again, we'll be curious to see what folks like Sen. Kent Conrad (D-Co-Op), Nelson, Lincoln, etc. say about the opt-out compromise. MoveOn (through letters and other pressure) says its members are warning any moderate Dem senator that he/she will lose their support if he/she joins Republicans to filibuster a health-care bill containing a public option.

*** A Snowe job? Make no mistake, Reid has made a big gamble here. While the White House is concerned only with passing a bill -- which is why it has tried to play both sides here (supporting the public option, but not drawing a line in the sand for it) -- Reid is weighing both passage and his own re-election prospects next year, which means he'll need support from the Democratic base. One thing is for sure, however: Olympia Snowe (R), whom Baucus and the White House wooed for months, isn't a fan of Reid's move. "It's unfortunate the Senate majority leader decided to take a different path," Snowe said outside her office yesterday, per NBC's Ken Strickland. "He did say it was a pretty good dog-gone good idea with respect to 'the trigger' in September. So I don't know what exactly has happened to change his mind." Here's the standard line we heard from the White House yesterday: They have lost Snowe today. But it's holding out hope she's open-minded tomorrow. A final point: Don't assume the "opt out" ends up being the final solution on public option. White House sources tell us to keep an eye on the "opt in" -- lots of the ex-governors turned senators (think Carper, Bayh, and Nelson among others) like the idea of being able to make a decision to CHOOSE help from the federal level rather than having to DENY the help...

*** Poll day! So how do Americans view the public option? What are their opinions about the health debate in general, President Obama, Washington, Afghanistan strategy, the Republican Party, and even Sarah Palin? Well, beginning at 6:30 pm ET, tune into NBC Nightly News, or click on to MSNBC.com, for the results from our latest NBC/WSJ poll. As usual, we'll probably release a few numbers before 6:30 pm.

*** Decision time is near? Decision time appears to be around the corner on Afghanistan. The Afghan runoff is set for Nov. 7; the president leaves for Asia on Nov. 11. Think we'll get an Oval Office address somewhere in between those two calendar bookends? It's as good of a guess as any at this point. Administration sources caution that the calendar isn't rushing their decision, but they acknowledge the Nov. 7-Nov. 11 window WAS a goal (they won't call it a goal now). Bottom line: Doesn't the president need to have a plan in place on Afghanistan before he meets with key allies in Asia (including Japan and China)? You bet he does. By the way, expect ANOTHER war council meeting sometime later this week (Thurs. or Fri.). Given the current unofficial timetable, one has to think this is the type of meeting that focuses on coming to a conclusion and making sure EVERYONE at the table supports the decision and is willing to politically SELL it.

*** Another awkward moment: About a month ago, President Obama traveled to Upstate New York to deliver a speech on the economy, which produced a very awkward moment with Gov. David Paterson (D) in the crowd. The reason: Just a day before, the New York Times published an article noting that the White House was encouraging Paterson not to run next year. Well, courtesy of administration aides complaining about Creigh Deeds' campaign in Friday's Washington Post, we might see another awkward moment when Obama campaigns for Deeds in Norfolk, VA beginning at 4:55 pm ET. Obama's appearance with Deeds comes as a new Washington Post poll shows the Democrat trailing Bob McDonnell (R) by 11 percentage points, 55%-44%. Per the Post: "Seven in 10 say the president -- who remains relatively popular with an approval rating of 54 percent among likely voters and 57 percent among all those registered to vote -- won't be a factor in their vote one way or the other. These findings suggest that the Virginia race may not be the early referendum on the Obama presidency that it is often held up to be."

*** The enthusiasm gap: Yet the real headline in the poll may be the enthusiasm gap between McDonnell and Deeds. "About a quarter of Deeds voters say they are supporting him 'not too' enthusiastically or 'not at all' enthusiastically," the Post writes. "More than nine in 10 of those who back McDonnell are 'very' enthusiastic or 'fairly' enthusiastic about the Republican." This means Obama's visit couldn't be coming at a better time for Deeds. Just how big will today's rally be? And how effective can a Tuesday rally be? By the way, word is he's cut his TV ad spending big time; in fact, he's barely up in the D.C. market, so reports the Washington Post's Cillizza. The real issue for Virginia Democrats now is that a Deeds loss could produce a disastrous coattail problem -- a statewide sweep of the three offices (LG and AG) and even cost Democrats a bunch of legislative seats.

*** Full of energy: Before Obama stumps with Deeds, he gives a speech on energy and jobs in Arcadia, FL at 12:25 pm ET. In his remarks from the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, Obama will tout smart-grid technologies that will modernize the nation's electricity grid. Vice President Biden also has an energy/jobs event today in Delaware, where he will make an announcement about the future of a former GM plant. These events aren't getting the attn the White House wants. But it isn't about today; it's about whether what they DELIVER today actually produces the jobs they believe will be created.

*** Swine flu worries? It's not a Katrina moment. BUT the Obama administration is getting anxious over this vaccine issue, since it went public months ago promising about five times more dosages available by this time than the science apparently could produce. The Washington Post: "In July, Obama administration officials said companies could make 80 million to 120 million doses by mid-October. They outlined an aggressive response to the pandemic, spending more than $2 billion to buy 250 million doses of vaccine and promising enough to inoculate every American. But only about 16.5 million doses have become available so far, putting the administration in an uncomfortable political position regarding what President Obama declared last week to be a national emergency."

*** NY-23, yeah you know me: Well, it's official: The national press corps has discovered the most interesting political race of the 2009 cycle -- the NY-23 special congressional election, where a GOP split threatens to give a Democrat control of this seat for the first time since the 19th century. Here's Politics Daily's Walter Shapiro: "The consensus of political insiders (and no one should bank on this) is that Owens has the lead because of party identification, Hoffman is gaining momentum, and Scozzafava appears to be fading, despite her strong base in Watertown media market, which makes up about one third of the district." The New York Times front-pages the race, and the L.A. Times also writes: "The conservative rebellion in northern New York is showing that the anger among disaffected voters, which became prominent this summer during the "tea party" anti-spending rally in Washington and at town hall meetings on healthcare, has become a baffling political force that even Republicans are having a hard time harnessing." If the Dems win this seat, the issue of the GOP split will become the political press corps' shiny metal object, and will take any positive momentum the party wants to grab out of winning Virginia.

*** Biden as Cheney -- at least on the campaign trail: Per NBC's Kelly Paice, Vice President Biden has now campaigned or helped raise money for fifteen House Democrats this year: Rep. John Adler (NJ), Rep. John Boccieri (OH), Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA), Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (AZ), Rep. Alan Grayson (FL), Rep. Deborah Halvorson (IL), Rep. Jim Himes (CT), Rep. Paul Hodes (NH), Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (OH), Rep. Larry Kissell (NC), Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (FL), Rep. Dan Maffei (NY), Rep. Glenn Nye (VA), Tom Perriello (D-VA), Zach Space (OH). What's more, Biden is set to headline fundraising events next week for New York Reps. Michael McMahon and Scott Murphy (NY). In a way, Biden has taken on the role that Dick Cheney played 2001-2003 as the Bush administration's go-to guy to help House candidates.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 7 days
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 42 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 84 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 371 days

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