8 a.m. ET: In a health-care debate that has often been as fast-paced and only slightly more interesting than watching paint dry, all sides agreed that Tuesday's Senate Finance Committee vote to approve reform legislation was a monumentally momentous milestone.
"We are now closer than ever before to passing health reform," President Obama said. "After months of relentless courting and suspense," Olympia Snowe decided to vote for the Finance panel's bill, the New York Times reports, and "remarks silenced the packed committee room, riveted colleagues and thrilled the White House." With just a hint of sarcasm, the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, "These are the days of miracles and wonders," mocking the idea that creating a new entitlement program would somehow reduce the cost of health care.
Get ready for lots of headlines that say, "Now Comes the Hard Part" (and expect to see the same headline again before the House and Senate bills go to conference.) Harry Reid is now in charge -- sort of. "The notion that anyone is now actually in control of this process is an illusion. But to the extent that anyone's hand is on the tiller, it is Reid's," Time observes. Jonathan Cohn writes out a list of the top ten priorities he believes negotiators should fight for as the reform bill progresses through the Senate.
The Cold War between Democrats and the insurance industry, which turned hot Monday, continues apace. The Washington Post writes that the insurance companies and the White House "have abandoned any real hope of forging a compromise. What was a tenuous truce has turned quickly into an all-out battle, with both sides ratcheting up the hostilities." AHIP is now airing an ad in key states warning seniors of cuts to their Medicare (specifically Medicare Advantage, and Nancy Pelosi's office was out with a rebuttal Tuesday night). The ad prompted a quick email from Organizing for America to its supporters asking for help to fight "the increasingly desperate attacks from the insurance lobby."
At the same time, Americans United for Change is on the air with an ad comparing the insurance industry's antitrust exemption to that of Major League Baseball, and the Senate Judiciary Committee has a hearing on the subject today. (Patrick Leahy dropped a bill to take away the insurers' exemption last month, but there's no indication that it's going anywhere in the Senate.) Tim Noah writes that the now-famous AHIP report inadvertently makes a strong case in favor of a public option. Roll Call reports that Finance Committee aides met with staffers from the insurance industry and PriceWaterhouseCoopers Tuesday, but there's no indication that a truce is imminent.
Obama has another meeting Tuesday morning with his national security team on the Afpak War. It turns out that among the menu of options Stanley McChrystal presented to the president, an increase of 80,000 troops is included as the most aggressive option, ABC News reports. That number is only marginally relevant, since it has long been clear that the debate within the White House is centered on which of several middle options Obama should choose between a troop pullout and a huge increase. The New York Times writes that in that debate, Vice President Biden, Obama's "in-house pessimist on Afghanistan," now has more allies on his side of the argument than he did in the administration's first days. Newsweek writes on a debate that occurred last week between experts on a blunt question -- Can the U.S. succeed in Afghanistan? On the Hill, the two Appropriations chairmen, Daniel Inouye and David Obey, made diametrically opposed arguments on that very question Tuesday, with the former pledging to fund a troop increase and the latter warning of impending disaster in the country.
The House Financial Services Committee starts its consideration today of legislation to create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. "A public clash over proposals for financial-services regulation is intensifying between the White House and the nation's largest business lobby," the Wall Street Journal reports, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce redoubles its efforts against the idea. Reuters says the committee will focus on the derivatives market this week, and hedge funds, insurers and brokerages next week. Meanwhile, Bloomberg pores over the financial disclosure forms of top Obama administration economic policy officials, and finds: "Some of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s closest aides, none of whom faced Senate confirmation, earned millions of dollars a year working for Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Citigroup Inc. and other Wall Street firms."
Also on the Hill, Robert Wexler informed his fellow House Democrats Tuesday night that he was resigning his Florida House seat to become the head of a think tank, the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. "The jockeying to represent his heavily Democratic congressional district began in earnest Tuesday as the news of his departure began to leak out," the Miami Herald writes.
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