Politics Today: Senate Gives Way to Lieberman's Health Care Demands

Politics Today is CBSNews.com's inside look at the key stories driving the day in politics, written by CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

** Liberals fume, but go along with Joe Lieberman's health care requests...

** Bank execs' actions don't quite match up to their words...

** Afghanistan troop buildup could take as long as a year...

(AP)
HEALTH CARE: "Senate Democratic leaders, scrambling for the 60 votes they need to pass the healthcare overhaul bill, moved Monday to strike a controversial proposal for expanding Medicare and proceed without a new government insurance program, the so-called public option," report the Los Angeles Times' Noam N. Levey and Janet Hook.

"'It's a matter of getting 60 senators,' Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told reporters after an evening meeting of the Democratic caucus in which party leaders stressed the urgency of getting a final Senate vote by next week.

"The proposal to let Americans between 55 and 64 buy into Medicare looked like the key to a compromise last week. But Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) stunned senior Democrats over the weekend with new threats to block the legislation if the Medicare provision was included."

"'Put me down tonight as encouraged about the direction these talks are going,' Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said late Monday, only 24 hours after he rattled Democrats by threatening to oppose the legislation over the Medicare provision," adds the AP's Erica Werner.

"Obama invited all Senate Democrats to the White House for a meeting Tuesday afternoon that held promise of a unity event. Obama needs every one of them to hang together to give him the 60 votes required to overcome stalling tactics from Republicans united in opposition to the sweeping health overhaul measure.

"Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., promised to deliver. 'I'm confident that by next week we will be on our way toward final passage of a bill that saves lives, saves money and saves Medicare,' Reid told reporters after Monday night's meeting."

"Reid has no margin for error and needs Lieberman's support to get the 60 votes needed to pass reform," write Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown and Manu Raju. "So Democrats, after a late-afternoon caucus meeting, sounded resigned to giving up on the idea of allowing Americans ages 55 to 64 to buy into the popular insurance plan for seniors — which Lieberman and other moderates worried was too much like the 'public option' that they had long opposed.

"But talk of dropping the Medicare expansion angered the party's liberals, who can't believe a senator who no longer considers himself a Democrat is in the position of effectively vetoing a key part of the health reform bill. Liberals supported the Medicare expansion as a way to cover more of the uninsured in a government plan.

"Already, there was talk of retaliating against Lieberman, much as some Democrats sought to strip him of his Senate Homeland Security Committee chairmanship after he campaigned for Republican Sen. John McCain for president in 2008.

"'The anger toward him right now is white hot,' said one senior Democratic aide."

(CBS)
"Mr. Lieberman could not be happier," write the New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn and David D. Kirkpatrick. "He is right where he wants to be — at the center of the political aisle, the center of the Democrats' efforts to win 60 votes for their sweeping health care legislation. For the moment, he is at the center of everything — and he loves it. 'My wife said to me, 'Why do you always end up being the point person here?' ' he said, flashing a broad grin in an interview on Monday ...

"Many Democrats say they have given up trying to divine the motivations of Mr. Lieberman. Some have suggested that he is catering to insurance industry interests back home. Others say he realizes that he cannot win re-election in 2012 without appealing to Republicans and independents, especially because Democrats will be energized with Mr. Obama running that year.

"Mr. Lieberman says he favors the essential elements of the health care legislation but fears that expanding government programs would compound the federal debt. Mr. Lieberman, who lost a Democratic primary in 2006, won re-election as an independent and campaigned aggressively against Mr. Obama last year, said he felt 'liberated' from party loyalty."

McClatchy Newspapers' David Lightman, "Senate appears ready to drop Medicare expansion"

Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery, "Senate health bill unlikely to include Medicare buy-in"

USA Today's John Fritze, "Democrats may drop Medicare buy-in"

Reid "has until Thursday to rewrite a 2,074-page healthcare bill in a way that resolves a daunting impasse emerging between a few centrist lawmakers and the rest of the Senate Democratic Conference," report The Hill's J. Taylor Rushing and Alexander Bolton. "Otherwise, Senate Democrats will have to postpone passage of Obama's top domestic initiative until after Christmas, and more likely next year, a move that could prove disastrous for the party and especially Reid.

"Democratic leaders estimate it will take six or seven days to vote down as many as three Republican filibusters to pass healthcare overhaul legislation.

"They also need a day to pass a Department of Defense appropriations bill, which is expected to include funding for unemployment benefits, COBRA health insurance and food stamps. The spending measure is considered must-pass because it will include a substantial increase of the federal debt limit. Administration officials have told Congress that they will run out of borrowing authority within weeks.

"That gives Reid until Thursday to file the first motion to end debate on the manager's amendment he will offer to rewrite the bill in a way that can garner the necessary 60 votes."

(AP / CBS)
"Some important hurdles remain before Mr. Reid can proceed toward a final vote," adds the Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt. "Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) continues to raise concerns that the legislation doesn't go far enough to ensure taxpayer dollars won't be used to fund abortions. Also, Democrats remain divided on a proposal by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) that would allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada and some other countries.

"A vote on the Dorgan amendment was set for Tuesday. If it passes, it would undermine a deal the White House struck with the drug industry to limit the industry's concessions to $80 billion over a decade.

"Any deal must also win approval in the House, which passed its health bill Nov. 7 by a narrow margin. The House bill includes a government-run health-insurance plan coveted by liberals, while the latest Senate version doesn't. The Senate has the upper hand on the shape of the final bill because it is harder to get a bill through the Senate."

Washington Post's Dan Eggen, "Drugmakers fight plan to allow imports": "Drugmakers intensified their lobbying push Monday against a popular proposal to allow Americans to buy cheaper drugs from other countries, one of several heated disputes that have bogged down negotiations over a health-care reform bill.

"The fight over the proposal further complicates Democrats' efforts to build support for health-care legislation in the Senate. The dispute also poses a particularly difficult political challenge for President Obama, who co-sponsored a similar bill when he was in Congress and who included funding for the idea in his first budget.

"The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), would allow pharmacies and wholesalers to import U.S.-approved medication from Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, where drug costs are far lower because of price controls. The measure has attracted bipartisan support from lawmakers, including Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"But the pharmaceutical industry -- which has been a key supporter of health-care reform after reaching an agreement with the White House earlier this year -- has responded with a fierce lobbying campaign aimed at killing the proposal, focusing on Democratic senators from states with large drug and research sectors."

McClatchy Newspapers' David Lightman, "Amid contentious health care issues, there's a lot lawmakers agree on": "[T]here's little discord over plans to require insurers to offer a minimum amount of coverage to nearly everyone, and the Democratic-authored House of Representatives and Senate bills bar insurers from denying coverage or raising rates because of pre-existing conditions.

"Under both bills, lower-income people could get government help to buy insurance, and Medicare costs would be trimmed significantly...

"'It's a big deal,' Elizabeth Carpenter, a health care analyst at the New America Foundation, a liberal public-policy research institute, said of the common ground. 'I know there are a lot of questions about the public option, abortion and other issues, and these are all important conversations. But they're not the be-all, end-all of reform.' ...

"Among the areas of agreement: Requiring most people to have a certain level of health care coverage. ... Helping those who have trouble paying for coverage. ... Creating health insurance exchanges. ... Barring insurers from denying coverage or charging people more because of pre-existing conditions. ... Ending separate rates because of gender, which now is allowed in most states. In addition, both bills would limit how much more an insurer could charge someone because of age."

(AP)
FINANCIAL INDUSTRY: "Chief executives of the largest U.S. banks acknowledged Monday the 'disconnect' between their expressed support for re-regulating financial markets and the work of their lobbyists to weaken any new rules," reports the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman.

"The executives pledged during a White House meeting with President Barack Obama that they would personally intervene on behalf of the legislation. Some of the CEOs said their lobbyists had taken stronger stands than they would have wanted, an assertion met with raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D, Mass.), chief architect of financial-overhaul legislation in that chamber, said in an interview he was 'highly skeptical.'"

Washington Post's Binyamin Applebaum and Michael A. Fletcher, "Obama calls on banks to ramp up lending"

CBS News' Wyatt Andrews, "Why Did Banks Pay Back Bailout Money?"

5869074AFGHANISTAN: "The senior allied operational commander in Afghanistan warned Monday that the military faced stiff challenges to deploying 30,000 additional American troops here on the tight schedule that President Obama has ordered," writes the NY Times' Eric Schmitt. "The officer, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the deputy commander of American and NATO forces here, said that bad weather, limited capacity to send supplies by air and potential attacks on ground convoys carrying equipment for the troops from Pakistan and other neighboring countries presented formidable hurdles to meeting the goal of sending all of the reinforcements by next fall.

"Under Mr. Obama's order early this month to accelerate the troop deployments, the White House initially said the additional forces would be in place within six months. Pentagon officials quickly amended that to say the bulk of the forces would be on the ground by next summer, but it would take a few months after that before all troops were in place.

"General Rodriguez did not back away from that timeline, saying that all of the additional troops would be in Afghanistan within 9 t0 11 months. But he spoke in some of the bluntest terms yet about the difficulties in achieving that goal. 'There's lots of risks in here, but we're going to try to get them in as fast as we can,' he said in an interview at his heavily fortified headquarters. 'There's a lot of things that have to line up perfectly.'"

(AP / CBS)
MIDTERM ELECTIONS: Wall Street Journal's Peter Wallsten, "Another Top House Democrat to Retire": "The planned departure of Rep. Bart Gordon (D., Tenn.), chairman of the House Science Committee, marks the fourth retirement in recent weeks, and the seventh in districts that analysts believe could change hands. ... Party strategists describe the retirements as more of a trickle than a flood. Fifteen years ago, the party lost more than two dozen incumbents to retirement as the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans swept into power by gaining a total of 54 seats. Democratic officials also note that more Republicans than Democrats are leaving the House after next year -- a 13-11 margin so far -- and that at least three of those GOP-held seats could change hands."

Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Dan Balz, "Democrats lose fourth congressman to retirement": "Privately, Democratic strategists were more pessimistic about the potential implications of Gordon's announcement. 'Until this point, this was manageable and reasonable,' said one strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. 'This is serious.' ... What most concerns Democrats is that the latest round of retirements will prompt other longtime lawmakers in competitive districts to rethink their reelection plans ... a rash of retirements by Democrats in swing districts would present a real problem for party leaders. Elections in districts without an incumbent running generally switch parties at much higher percentages than those with a reelection seeker. With Gordon, Democrats are now defending 11 open seats, seven of which are considered genuinely competitive. House Republican retirements stand at 12, with four of those likely to be targeted by the two national parties."

USA Today's Kathy Kiely, "House Dems' tough task: Defending 'swing' seats in 2010": "Both parties work hard to keep retirements to a minimum, because incumbents generally have an advantage in winning elections. In 1994, the retirement of 28 Democrats proved the harbinger of a Republican takeover of the House. ... Gordon is the third member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of centrist Democrats, to announce plans to retire since Nov. 23. The others are Reps. John Tanner of Tennessee and Dennis Moore of Kansas. Another deficit hawk, Rep. Brian Baird of Washington, announced his retirement last week."

Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel, "Conservatives grab for Tea Party cash": "Conservative leaders are eager to turn Tea Party anger into election-year cash – and to do that, they're launching a flurry of new political action committees aimed at collecting small-dollar donations from newly engaged anti-tax, anti-spending activists."

CQ Politics' Greg Giroux, "Biden or Bust: No Plan B for Delaware Democrats": "In the nearly 12 months since Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. moved to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, it has been a foregone conclusion in national and Delaware political circles that his eldest son, state Attorney General Beau Biden, would run in the special election for his father's former Senate seat. ... But what happens if Biden doesn't run? Few have asked the question because of the perceived inevitability of a Biden Senate campaign. But at this stage, it appears that Democrats don't have a Plan B — it's Biden or bust."

Wall Street Journal's Tamara Audi, "Gay-Marriage Backers Split on 2010 Ballot Effort": "To put gay marriage on the ballot in California next year, John Henning and his band of volunteers must collect one million voter signatures in 150 days. That might be the easy part. Mr. Henning's group faces a tougher challenge of persuading other gay-rights activists to join the fight."

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  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBSNews.com's Executive Editor, Washington.

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