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First thoughts: Last chance?

Is this week the last, best chance for health-care reform?... In advance of Thursday's televised summit, Obama to post health proposal on White House Web site at 10:00 am ET… Breaking down Ron Paul's CPAC straw poll victory… Time to stop the "one-and-done" pronouncements?... Cross David Petraeus off your 2012 list… Milbank's praise of Rahm Emanuel… And Ted Strickland compares '94 with now.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Last Chance? This is shaping up to be a crucial -- and possibly decisive -- week on health-care reform, with today's release of President Obama's compromise proposal and Thursday's televised summit. As one policy wonk told the New Republic's Jon Cohn, "This is the last, best shot." (Of course, how many times have we heard this? Then again, this does look like the last, last, last best shot.) At 10:00 am ET, the White House is releasing on its Web site its proposal to bridge the already-passed House and Senate health-care bills. An administration official says the White House is suggesting these changes to the Senate legislation: 1) eliminating the so-called "Nebraska Cornhusker" deal and other special arrangements; 2) including an additional series of GOP-backed measures to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse; and 3) introducing a new provision to prevent insurance rate hikes like the 39% increase by Anthem Blue Cross in California. "The president believes the bipartisan discussion on Thursday will be the most productive if Democrats come to the table with a consolidated proposal -- what he's releasing today -- and he hopes the Republicans will follow suit and come with their own unified proposal," the official says. "He'll be open to Republican ideas, and he hopes they'll be open to ours." The "fix" on the so-called Cadillac tax for union health care plans is still alive, by the way. 

*** Moving forward: So how do congressional Democrats move forward? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid provided this road map on Friday: "I think we will not have to do a major bill. We can do a relatively small bill to take care of what we've already done… We are going to have that done in the next 60 days." Translation: The Senate will move to pass the fixes -- like nixing the Nebraska deal -- via reconciliation after the House passes the Senate bill. (The House Democratic leadership would rather the Senate pass the "fixes" before voting on the Senate bill, but there is a parliamentary question as to whether the Senate can "fix" a bill before it's been signed into law.) The New Republic's Cohn asks the central political question here: "Obama wants this. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants this. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants this… But do the rest of the Democrats in Congress want this?... Will Democrats, particularly in the House, get past their fear and vote for the bill? Really that's what the summit is all about -- convincing nervous Democrats that the Republicans really aren't interested in compromise and that health care reform, despite the poll numbers, is still a good idea." Today just isn't about health care, however; the Senate is supposed to hold a cloture vote this afternoon on Reid's scaled-down jobs bill.

*** Ron Paul's party? Perhaps it was inevitable that a conservative movement that preaches about little to no government, that stresses the words "liberty" and "freedom," and that increasingly says "no" would end up embracing the man nicknamed "Dr. No" -- Ron Paul. Still, for those of us who followed the 2008 election, Paul's victory in Saturday's CPAC presidential straw poll was absolutely stunning. After all, Paul spoke out against the Iraq war, opposes the death penalty, favors drug legalization, and wants to abolish the Federal Reserve. To be sure, the CPAC straw poll isn't the best indicator about the eventual GOP nominee -- George Allen won it in '06, and Mitt Romney won it in '07 and '08. But Paul's victory does seem to suggest where the conservative energy and Tea Party movement is coming from right now. And for those of us who spent a lot of time on the trail in '08 and checked in on the impressive crowds Paul drew back then, guess what: There's A LOT of overlap between those Paul crowds and the Tea Party crowds of today. The irony is that in '08, the mainstream GOP totally wrote off the Paul crowds; now they are embracing them. Of course, the Paul crowds did not translate into actual votes at the primary ballot boxes, but they had energy.

*** One and done? While the declarations at CPAC about big GOP wins this November will probably come true, the other pronouncements -- by Dick Cheney, John Bolton, and others -- that Obama will be a one-term president seem a bit premature after this past weekend. Remember that before defeating Obama in 2012, Republicans first are going to have to find a candidate who can beat him. Will it be Romney, who finished a disappointing second to Paul in the straw poll? Will it be Pawlenty, who declared on Friday that he wants to take "a 9-iron and smash the window of big government in this country," but who was unable to tell NBC's David Gregory which government programs he wanted to cut? Will it be Gingrich? Palin? Someone else? In short, until Republicans have a candidate, it's silly for anyone to begin making declarations about an election three years from now. 

*** Petraeus is no MacArthur: Speaking of 2012, we can probably cross Gen. David Petraeus off the potential list. On "Meet the Press" yesterday he sounded more like Barack Obama than Dick Cheney. Here was Petraeus on the enhanced interrogation techniques practiced during the Bush administration: "I think that whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside." Petraeus on Gitmo: "I've been on the record on that for well over a year as well, saying that it should be closed. But it should be done in a responsible manner." The only thing that he hedged on a bit was "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Petraeus said, "I support what our [Defense] secretary and, and [Joint Chiefs] chairman have embarked on here. I will -- I'm fully participating in that process." Of course, military officers are supposed to follow the orders of their commander-in-chief. But if Petraeus were going to challenge Obama in 2012, he'd have to pull a Douglas MacArthur. And he sure didn't sound like MacArthur yesterday. The job Petraeus appears to have his eye on is Joint Chiefs chairman, and sticking by the commander-in-chief is one way to get there, assuming Mike Mullen doesn't end up getting a THIRD two-year term. 

*** Praising Rahm, fixing Congress: Sunday provided us with two provocative columns/op-eds that sparked fascinating debates in the liberal blogosphere. In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank argued that Rahm Emanuel isn't the problem at the White House. "Obama's first year fell apart in large part because he didn't follow his chief of staff's advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter… Obama's problem is that his other confidants -- particularly Valerie Jarrett and Robert Gibbs, and, to a lesser extent, David Axelrod -- are part of the Cult of Obama. In love with the president, they believe he is a transformational figure who needn't dirty his hands in politics." Also on Sunday, outgoing Sen. Evan Bayh (D) unveiled some ideas for fixing Congress: 1) requiring Democrats and Republicans to meet once a month over lunch; 2) embarking on further campaign-finance reforms; and 3) forcing filibustering senators to actually filibuster.

*** A programming note: MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" features Ohio Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, while "Andrea Mitchell Reports" has Democratic Govs. David Paterson and Deval Patrick. Here's a tease of Strickland commenting about losing his congressional seat in 1994 but winning it back two years later. "In '94, we tried to reform health care and we failed… We're trying to deal with health care now. I say that the American people do not reward failure. And I think it's absolutely important that the Congress deal with health care this."

VIDEO: Here's NBC's Chuck Todd'S full interview with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

*** Midterm news: In Florida, Charlie Crist agreed to debate Marco Rubio on FOX next month, but Rubio didn't agree to Crist's offer to also debate on "Meet the Press" earlier in March… In Michigan, Rep. John Dingell (D) said he'd run for another term… In New York, Paterson kicked off his election campaign over the weekend… And in Texas, the Rick Perry-vs-Kay Bailey Hutchison primary takes place next Tuesday.

Countdown to NC filing deadline: 4 days
Countdown to TX primary: 8 days
Countdown to AR filing deadline: 14 days
Countdown to OR, PA filing deadlines: 15 days
Countdown to CA, NV filing deadlines: 18 days
Countdown to IA, UT filing deadlines: 25 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 253 days

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