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Morning Bulletin – Thursday, March 5, 2009

A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Obama focuses on health care reform at 1pm ET as he rounds up friends and foes alike to "discuss ideas on how to bring down health care costs and increase coverage," according to the White House.

"Obama, who has nominated Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius as his health secretary, will gather about 120 people representing everyone from doctors and patients to health insurers and lawmakers to discuss how to fix U.S. health care," writes Reuters' David Alexander.

"It's a challenge that has defeated earlier presidents. But officials say the current U.S. economic crisis only makes it more imperative."

"A broad group of doctors, patients, business owners and insurers were to gather for a forum Thursday in hopes of building support for big changes in health care. Republicans are invited, and they're expected to speak up," adds the Associated Press' Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar.

"Among the invitees are some who helped kill the Clinton administration's health care overhaul in the 1990s. Everyone is supposed to be on his best behavior, but will that last? 'This is a different day,' said Chip Kahn, a hospital lobbyist who opposed President Bill Clinton's plan and was to attend Thursday's gathering. 'I think among most of the stakeholders, everyone wants to see this work. There is a tremendous feeling that it's time.'"

"Obama's budget to Congress last week proposed creating a $634 billion fund over 10 years to use to begin getting everyone health insurance. The president didn't offer an exact plan, saying he was open to 'all serious ideas,' including taxing employer-provided health, something he opposed during the campaign," reports Bloomberg News' Aliza Marcus.

"Obama also said Congress will have to come up with additional money to pay the full cost of making health care affordable to all and available to the 46 million Americans now without medical insurance. It would take more than $100 billion annually to meet that goal, according to health economists."

One notable absence today: Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose infamous attempt at health care reform in the mid-1990s looms large over Mr. Obama's calls for reform now.

"Intent on establishing herself as a powerful secretary of state, she has steered clear of public statements on the topic and has not discussed it in any detail with President Obama," reports the New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

(AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
"Mrs. Clinton's distance from the health care initiative, figuratively and literally — she will be in Brussels on Thursday when Mr. Obama begins his effort to overhaul the system with a high-profile gathering of experts — underscores how the Obama White House is grappling with the cloud that still lingers over the Clinton plan 15 years after it imploded.

"Mr. Obama is at once trying to distance himself from the baggage Mrs. Clinton carries as the architect of that plan, while demonstrating that he has learned from it. He is drawing on the experiences of a host of aides who are Clinton veterans, notably Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.

"But he is not relying on Mrs. Clinton herself. 'I think we've got her pretty well occupied,' said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's senior adviser, adding that the president and Mrs. Clinton had spoken about her experience with health care 'only in the most general terms.'"

And one sidebar: The Washington Post's Dan Eggen and Ceci Connolly report Mr. Obama's "opening gambit to dramatically expand the health-care system has attracted surprising notes of support from insurers, hospitals and other players in the powerful medical lobby who are set to participate in an unusual White House summit on the issue this afternoon. The lure for the industry is the prospect of tens of millions of new customers: If Obama succeeds in fulfilling his pledge to cover many more Americans, those newly insured people will get checkups, purchase medicine, undergo physical therapy and get surgeries they cannot afford today."

ALSO TODAY: Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood are in Miami to visit a construction site that's benefiting from the recently passed economic stimulus bill.

Mr. Biden also will speak to the AFL-CIO's Executive Council in Miami at 11am.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House Budget Director Peter Orszag continue selling the president's budget blueprint during congressional hearings today.

Michelle Obama visits Miriam's Kitchen, a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C.

BUDGET/ECONOMY

Associated Press' Stephen Ohlemacher, "Key Democrats oppose Obama's tax deduction plan"

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Wall Street Journal's John D. McKinnon and Martin Vaughan, "White House Rethinks Tax Hikes": "President Barack Obama is meeting strong Democratic Party resistance to his proposal to reduce tax deductions enjoyed by upper-income Americans and could be forced to drop or modify the idea.

"Mr. Obama in his budget blueprint last week proposed a cap on itemized deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations to help pay for his health-care overhaul. The plan would cost wealthier taxpayers about $318 billion in new taxes over 10 years, according to government estimates. But after objections from Democratic lawmakers, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner appeared to suggest at one point Wednesday that the administration was willing to consider dropping or modifying the proposal.

"The resistance from Mr. Obama's own party -- focusing on a single element of the president's tax plans -- could foreshadow broader troubles for the rest of his proposed tax increases."

NY Times' Stephanie Strom, "Charities Say Government Is Ignoring Them in Crisis"

Wall Street Journal's Karl Rove, "Presidential Bait-and-Switch": "Barack Obama won the presidency in large measure because he presented himself as a demarcation point. The old politics, he said, was based on "spin," misleading arguments, and an absence of candor. He'd 'turn the page' on that style of politics. Last week's presentation of his budget shows that hope was a mirage. For example, Mr. Obama didn't run promising larger deficits -- but now is offering record-setting ones. ...

"Nor did Mr. Obama run promising more earmarks. ... Now he wants to wave through a $410 billion omnibus spending bill with about 8,500 earmarks. ...

"Nor is it credible to claim that the spending spree on Mr. Obama's watch is someone else's responsibility, as Mr. Orszag did by saying the president had 'inherited' these deficits. Mr. Obama ceded authority to congressional appropriators, who wrote the stimulus bill that is history's largest spending increase. Then Mr. Obama got behind the pork-laden omnibus-spending bill.

EARMARKS

Politico's Jonathan Martin, "Obama in earmark jam"

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Diana Marrero, "Feingold, Ryan, McCain unite to curb earmarks"

Washington Post's Paul Kane, "Democrats Stop Effort To Remove Earmarks"

USA Today's John Fritze, "Former lawmakers keep pet projects alive with 'earmarks'"

MORTGAGE RESCUE PLAN

Washington Post's Renae Merle and Dina ElBoghdady, "U.S. Launches Wide-Ranging Plan to Steady Housing Market"

Wall Street Journal's Michael M. Phillips and Ruth Simon, "Mortgage Bailout to Aid 1 in 9 U.S. Homeowners"

GOP'S FUTUREWashington Post's Perry Bacon Jr., "Amid Criticism, RNC Chair Steele Says He'll Stay Focused on Remaking Party"

Politico's Ben Smith, "For GOP: all pain, no gain"

Politico's Manu Raju, "Trapped between Rush and a hard place"

CBSNews.com's Political Hotsheet, "Limbaugh Wants To Debate Obama"

CQPolitics' Edward Epstein, "In a Shift, House Republicans Take on Obama"

(CBS)
House Minority Leader John Boehner writes in the Washington Post, "Democrats' Diversionary Tactics": "in a carefully calculated campaign, operatives and allies of the Obama administration are seeking to divert attention toward radio host Rush Limbaugh, and away from a debate about our alternative solutions on the economy and the irresponsible spending binge they are presiding over. This diversionary tactic will not create a single job or help a single family struggling in today's economic crisis. And that is where our focus should be.

"Make no mistake: This strategy did not develop out of thin air. Democratic pollsters began laying the groundwork for this effort last fall. What's particularly regrettable is that all this is unfolding at a time our nation can least afford it. President Obama has said that we must change the way Washington operates in order to address the unprecedented challenges of today.

"I hope that those inside and close to the administration begin heeding his advice, because the change-the-subject campaign they are employing is the oldest trick in Washington's book. This isn't about the leadership of political party officials or the influence of radio hosts. It's about the need for both parties to work together toward real solutions to end this recession and put Americans back to work."

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

LA Times' Tom Hamburger and Christi Parsons, "President Obama's czar system concerns some"

Washington Times' Jerry Seper, "Big donors dominate Obama panel": "President Obama's newly named Economic Recovery Advisory Board, the real-world Americans being asked to help solve the nation's financial crisis, includes a union executive who took the Fifth in a federal probe, a billionaire whose failed bank pioneered the subprime mortgage market, and deep-pocket donors who gave or gathered nearly $1.2 million for the president's campaign.

"In all, 11 of the 16 board members donated or raised money for Democrats in the last election, according to a Washington Times review of campaign finance records. They include the president and chief operating officer of the American arm of UBS Investment Bank, the Swiss-based bank now at the center of a widening tax evasion probe by the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service."

St. Petersburg Times' Craig Pittman and Wes Allison, "Obama nominates Florida's seasoned emergency director Craig Fugate to head FEMA"

Washington Post's Kim Hart, "D.C. Tech Chief Headed For White House Slot"

FOREIGN POLICY

Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, "Clinton Criticizes Israel's Eviction, Demolition Plans"

Washington Post's Ben Pershing, "Brown Tells Congress To 'Seize This Moment"

Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman, "Obama Starts 'Urgent Review' of U.S. Policy Toward Sudan"

MINNESOTA SENATE RECOUNT

Minneapolis Star Tribune's Kevin Duchschere, "Mistakes were isolated, Franken team contends"

FUTURE RACES

2009 NJ Governor: CQ Politics, "Corzine on the Slide in New Jersey"

2010 CA Governor: Politico's Ben Smith, "Brown strong in California"

2010 CA Governor: Sacramento Bee's Peter Hecht, "Field Poll: Feinstein would be front-runner in race for governor"

2010 IA Governor: Des Moines Register, "Grassley pushes aside talk of run for governor"

2010 SC Governor: The State's John O'Connor, "Barrett to focus on economy in governor run"

ALSO:

CBSNews.com's Political Hotsheet, "Rove, Miers Will Testify Over U.S. Attorney Firings"

Houston Chronicle's Todd Ackerman, "Barbara Bush undergoes heart surgery"

Boston Globe's Susan Milligan, "Kennedy to be knighted"

4844482NY Times' Helene Cooper, "For Young President, Flecks of Gray"

Washington Post's Philip Rucker, "Obama's Other Gray Matter"

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