From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Coming full circle: Now that the eventual Senate health-care bill won't contain anything resembling a public option -- even the Medicare "buy-in" compromise -- it's worth noting that we've now come full circle back to Max Baucus' Senate Finance bill. You might remember that legislation, which passed committee in October, didn't contain any kind of public option. But Senate Majority Harry Reid decided to insert a public option (with a state "opt out") in his bill, and then later retreated to offer the Medicare buy-in compromise. At the time, many observers (and most notably the White House) were convinced that the eventual legislation would end up looking more like Baucus' bill, simply due to the tough road to 60 votes. Was it a mistake for Reid to make a play for the public option? Given everything that has transpired, a senior Senate Democratic aide said the fight was worth having. "The caucus as a whole had to come to an understanding what was possible and what wasn't possible," the aide told First Read. "Would having a public option made it stronger? Yes. But that doesn't mean it isn't a strong bill." So this was about bringing along the liberal/progressive members...
*** Lieberman doing the dirty work? There is plenty of speculation about whether Joe Lieberman -- by opposing any kind of public option compromise -- was going at it alone or doing the dirty work for a few Senate Dem moderates. (After all, we're no longer talking about Blanche Lincoln, as Politico's Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith reminded us yesterday.) Whatever happened, Lieberman is now clearly on board. The biggest unknown right now is Ben Nelson (over abortion). Also, are we finally going to get that CBO score today? As for President Obama's remarks on health care yesterday, his tone seemed to be one of exasperated optimism -- if there is such a thing -- after sitting down with the Dem caucus. Most of his statement, including the shout-out to Tom Harkin, seemed designed to begin an attempt to calm the liberal wing of the party, which may tell us about the tone of the private meeting.
*** How many times can you say 'no'? While all the attention is focused -- correctly -- on the tenuous Democratic coalition as the president and Senate Dems attempt to get health care passed, does the likelihood that the legislation WON'T include a public option OR a Medicare buy-in mean that some Senate Republicans are running out of reasons to oppose this bill? Isn't the legislation, as it potentially stands, something that Snowe and Collins should be able to support? What about Grassley? It may be that the politics of this and the bitterness that's descended inside the Senate prevent anyone from crossing party lines. But do Republicans risk looking totally like obstructionists if some of their bigger concerns about the bill are gone? Similarly, Republicans are criticizing the administration's decision to relocate Gitmo detainees -- to the president's backyard of Illinois (!!!). At some point, don't Republicans have to agree (or at least try to cut a deal) on something besides Afghanistan?
*** Can you govern if you're unwilling to play ball? Again, like what appears to be happening on health care, the White House took the sting out of the toughest part of the Gitmo decision (where to relocate the prisoners). Some will say we're being naïve -- that, of course, the GOP is making a political calculation. But will Republicans be able to sell the idea to the middle that they are ready to govern if they don't appear to want to play ball on an issue besides Afghanistan? Aren't they handing Obama the "obstructionist" message that benefited Bush and Clinton in their first terms?
*** Poll day! So how are Americans viewing the health-care fight? What are their thoughts about the military escalation in Afghanistan? And what are their impressions of Obama's nearly first full year in office? Be sure to tune into NBC Nightly News, or click on to MSNBC.com, beginning at 6:30 pm ET for the results from our new NBC/WSJ poll. Of course, we'll have some early numbers to report before then, so be sure to visit the site later this afternoon. By the way, a new Washington Post/ABC poll has some tough health-care numbers for the White House and congressional Democrats, as it finds "the public generally fearful that a revamped system would bring higher costs while worsening the quality of their care." A top Senate GOP aide reminds us of this Post headline from October: "Public option gains support; CLEAR MAJORITY NOW BACKS PLAN; Americans still divided on overall packages."
*** Lots of international news: International affairs share today's political spotlight. First, per Reuters, Iran "successfully test-fired a long-range, improved Sejil 2 missile, state television reported on Wednesday, an announcement likely to add to tension with the West."… The AP reports (and NBC's Savannah Guthrie confirms) that Obama wrote "a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as part of an intense effort to draw the reclusive nation back to nuclear disarmament talks." … Obama phoned Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to wish him a speedy recovery after suffering an attack that broke his nose and chipped his teeth… And tomorrow, Obama embarks to the climate change conference in Copenhagen.
*** Drum roll, please: Time magazine's Man of the Year is … Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, as was announced on TODAY this morning. Bernanke beat out others including Obama, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. This is the type of pick that will look smart in 25 years; it fits the moment in history well. Also, you think this will help Bernanke at his committee confirmation vote tomorrow?
*** Obama vs. George W. Bush: Yesterday, liberal blogger John Aravosis raised a provocative question: Why was George W. Bush seemingly more successful getting some his legislative priorities passed (the two tax cuts, the Medicare prescription-drug law, No Child Left Behind) than Obama has been, and with smaller GOP majorities in the Senate? While recognizing that Obama has been in office for just 11 months, and that the Medicare prescription-drug fight had nearly the amount of drama this current battle has, perhaps here's an answer to Aravosis: Democrats actually voted with the Republicans. After all, Ted Kennedy worked with Bush on No Child Left Behind, and numerous Dems backed the tax cuts. By nature, are some Democrats just more willing to want to cut a deal than their current GOP counterparts are?
*** Programming note: MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," which airs at the 1:00 pm ET hour, will interview RNC Chairman Michael Steele, as well as Barney Frank and Jay Rockefeller.
*** 2012 watch: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) heads to Concord, N.H., today to speak at a fundraiser for state Senate Republicans at 5:30 pm ET. RealClear Politics curtain-raises Pawlenty's visit by wondering why so many more prospective 2012 candidates have traveled to Iowa but not to the Granite State. "Iowa, another early nominating state, has already seen a visit from Pawlenty, two from Mike Huckabee, and others even from dark horses like Rick Santorum, George Pataki and Mike Pence… The only other national political figure of note to visit New Hampshire this year was Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who attended a state party fundraiser in June."
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