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Morning Bulletin – Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
A day after meeting with health care business leaders yesterday to announce their goal to cut $2 trillion in costs over the next 10 years, President Obama focuses on health care reform again today, meeting with business leaders to discuss cutting employer health care costs.

The New York Times' Robert Pear takes a look at the "daunting odds" the president faces in his push for health care costs.

"If history is a guide, their commitments may not produce the promised savings. Their proposals are vague — promising, for example, to reduce both 'overuse and underuse of health care,'" writes Pear.

"None of the proposals are enforceable, and none of the savings are guaranteed. Without such a guarantee, budget rules would normally prevent Congress from using the savings to pay for new initiatives to cover the uninsured. At this point, cost control is little more than a shared aspiration.

"Still, the event was significant. There was something in it for Mr. Obama, and something for the industry — though not necessarily the same thing. Their interests overlap but do not coincide. For Mr. Obama, the White House meeting was an opportunity to showcase his consensus-building approach, in contrast with the confrontational style of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who at this point in her husband's first term attacked 'price gouging, cost shifting and unconscionable profiteering' by the industry in a speech to union members.

(CBS)
"Mr. Obama is not cracking the whip on the health care industry so much as wooing it, just as he said he would in the campaign. For the health care and insurance executives, the savings initiative helps them secure a seat at the table where many decisions about their future will be made in the next year. They also ingratiated themselves with Democrats in the White House and Congress who are moving swiftly to reshape the nation's health care system."

Meantime, the Times' Pear reports, "Forty-five House Democrats in the party's moderate-to-conservative wing have protested the secretive process by which party leaders in their chamber are developing legislation to remake the health care system. The lawmakers, members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, said they were 'increasingly troubled' by their exclusion from the bill-writing process. They expressed their concerns in a letter delivered Monday to three House committee chairmen writing the bill, which House leaders hope to pass this summer."

The Associated Press Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar has a Q&A on the health care debate:

5001780REPLACING SOUTER: "As President Obama's search for a Supreme Court justice progresses, it appears the White House has locked in on two competing sets of nominees: those who have traditional judicial and academic backgrounds and another group that comes from what might be called the 'real world,'" report the Los Angeles Times' James Oliphant and David G. Savage.

"Since Justice David H. Souter announced his retirement this month, much of the speculation about who will succeed him has centered on candidates such as U.S. Solicitor Gen. Elena Kagan, Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York and Judge Diane Wood of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

"But the president's own words have made some of the obvious favorites less obvious. Obama said his choice would possess a 'quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.' What Obama meant by a 'quality of empathy' has been left to interpretation. The White House said the president was seeking a candidate with a diverse set of life experiences. ...

"That seemingly would point away from prospects such as Kagan, a former dean of Harvard Law School, and Wood, who worked in the federal government before being named to the federal appeals court. And it could favor a candidate such as Sotomayor, a Latina and former New York prosecutor who grew up in a Bronx housing project. Or such criteria could pave the way for a less traditional choice, such as Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm or Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Granholm or Napolitano would provide a different profile for a Supreme Court nominee. ...

"The White House also has hinted there are candidates who have not been publicly discussed."

Meantime, reports the Washington Post's Robert Barnes and Michael D. Shear, "Hispanics See Stars Aligned on High Court": "Justice David H. Souter's departure from the Supreme Court gives the first African American president a historic opportunity to break another barrier by appointing the first Hispanic to the nation's highest court.

"Those involved in the process inside the White House and those advising from outside say President Obama would relish such a choice. He studiously and successfully courted Hispanic support during the campaign and has maintained close ties to Latino leaders since coming to office.

But the White House is constructing its appointment strategy on the belief that this will not be his only appointment to the court and that he need not reach his goal of changing the racial, ethnic and gender balance on the court with just one pick. Whatever selection Obama makes will emerge from a complicated political and legal calculation that pulls at competing elements of his presidency."

The New York Times' Neil A. Lewis profiles Judge Diane P. Wood, "Potential Justice Offers a Counterpoint in Chicago."

CHARLIE CRIST: Fresh off moderate Arlen Specter's defection from the Republican Party and in the midst of the GOP's debate about its direction, moderate Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Florida, announced today that he's jumping into the 2010 Senate race there.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Repercussions: Conservatives in Florida and around the country will squirm over the candidacy of the hugely popular Crist, who also happens to be a friend of the Obama White House (he stood with the president during his recent swing through the Sunshine State and supported the president's stimulus plan). And although Crist has not been a boon to Republican candidates in the conservative northern and panhandle areas of his state, he remains popular among independents and Republicans in other parts of the state (his endorsement of John McCain in 2008 was widely credited with helping McCain defeat Mitt Romney in last year's presidential primary).

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, bucked his party's base, which is trying to move the party rightward, and pushed Crist hard to run, knowing he'd be the strongest Republican, moderate or not, to hold onto the seat currently held by retiring Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Florida. And having Crist as the Republican candidate would allow Cornyn to spend precious campaign funds in more highly-contested states, including some expensive states currently held by Democrats such as Illinois, New York, Colorado and possibly Delaware.

In the Republican primary, Crist will face conservative former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, setting up what could be a bloody battle for the future of the state Republican Party and, perhaps, a precursor to the fate of the national party. Crist, a potential 2012 presidential candidate, would be in a very strong position with a solid win next year. And if conservatives are squirming now, they'll be much louder if a well-positioned Crist begins to eye the White House.

"While Crist is a brand-name recruit with sky-high approval ratings and bipartisan appeal, his path to keeping the seat of retiring Sen. Mel Martinez in GOP hands has at least one significant roadblock: Sunshine State conservatives," reports Politico's Josh Kraushaar.

"Despite Crist's widespread popularity, he faces a primary in which he will have to make his case to a restless GOP base dissatisfied with his high-profile advocacy for President Barack Obama's stimulus and his handling of the state's budget woes. And he will be facing a vigorous fight from former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, a young, outspoken Hispanic conservative who is capturing the attention of activists in Florida and across the country.

"Rubio began telegraphing his attacks against Crist even before the governor's formal announcement. In an interview with POLITICO, he singled out Crist for abandoning conservative principles and compared the governor to moderate Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. 'If we're offering the same thing as the Democrats, but with different packaging, what's the point in having a Republican Party?' Rubio said.'I'm going to offer Floridians a clear, consistent, authentic small-government choice in the primary.'"

Meantime, the Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard and Adam C. Smith write that Crist's Senate run truly changes the dynamic in Florida politics.

"Crist's anticipated announcement Tuesday morning that he's running for the U.S. Senate, rather than reelection as governor, will trigger one of the most chaotic and wide open election seasons ever in Florida," Reinhard and Smith report.

"'It's going to be like a fruit basket overturned,' said Joyce Russell, of the non-partisan Forum of the Palm Beaches, where Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink spoke Monday amid buzz about her potential gubernatorial campaign. 'I like consistency. This makes me nervous.' Besides Crist and Sink, the other statewide elected officials expected to seek new office are Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, both likely to run for governor.

"Crist's bid could also leave the Republican Party of Florida in the lurch, putting at risk its control of the governor's mansion and Florida's Cabinet. And with Crist running for federal office, he no longer can raise corporate contributions or unlimited 'soft money' for the state party. That means that the state GOP, already cutting staffers and facing fundraising challenges with the sour economy, loses its top money-raiser.

"'It's a huge problem for Republicans, and it certainly plays into the other side's hands,' said Republican consultant Brett Doster of Tallahassee. 'It's going to put the party in a more defensive posture than it has been in a couple decades.' What's more, some Republicans are worried about their top contender for governor, McCollum. He has lost two of three statewide bids since 2000. Sink, considered the Democratic front-runner for governor if she runs, won her first and only statewide campaign in 2006."

ALSO TODAY: "In the afternoon, the President and the Vice President will deliver remarks at a ceremony honoring the National Association of Police Organization's Top Cops award winners in the Rose Garden. Attorney General Eric Holder will also attend," per the White House.

"Later in the afternoon, the President and the Vice President will meet with General Raymond Odierno, Commanding General, Multi-National Force – Iraq, and US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill in the Situation Room. President Obama and Vice President Biden will also meet with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the Oval Office."

Tonight, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will host an evening of poetry, music and the spoken word in the East Room of the White House. Vice President Biden and his wife Jill will also attend.

At 11:30 a.m. ET, Vice President Biden will speak to AFSCME's legislative conference in Washington, D.C.

This afternoon, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis; and Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael J. Astrue will attend the annual spring meeting of the Social Security and Medicare Trustees to discuss the financial situation of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.

(CBS/iStockphoto)
"The financial health of the government's two biggest benefit programs may have slipped over the past year, reflecting the deep recession that has already bitten into other areas of the budget," reports the Associated Press' Martin Crutsinger.

"The trustees for Social Security and Medicare are scheduled to provide their annual report on the finances of both programs on Tuesday. In advance of the release, many private analysts said they expected both programs could run out of cash sooner than last predicted. A year ago, the trustees projected that the Social Security trust fund would start paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes in 2017 and that the trust fund would be depleted in 2041.

"For the Medicare trust fund, which pays for hospital care, the situation was more urgent. It was projected to start paying more in benefits than it collects in taxes within a year, and the trustees forecast that it would be depleted by 2019. But many analysts said the worst recession in decades will produce a bleaker forecast for both Social Security and Medicare in the new trustees' report. The downturn has resulted in a loss of 5.7 million payroll jobs since it began in December 2007 and an unemployment rate that hit a 25-year high of 8.9 percent in April. Fewer people working means less being paid into the trust funds for Social Security and Medicare."

(AP)
At 2 p.m. ET, former President Jimmy Carter will testify to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about energy security. ""President Carter has an unparalleled understanding of the depth and scope of the energy security challenges facing our nation, and we are honored to welcome him to the committee," committee chairman Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said in a statement.

"This hearing will launch a series of targeted investigations into the manifestations and implications of our dependence on foreign oil, as well as the geopolitical challenges associated with current patterns of global energy flows."

AFGHANISTAN

Wall Street Journal's Yochi J. Dreazen, "U.S. Fires Afghan War Chief"

LA Times' Julian E. Barnes, "A new U.S. approach expected in Afghanistan"

CONGRESS

Associated Press' Larry Margasak, "Democrats race to hearings on interrogation memos"

Washington Post's Nancy Trejos, "Senators Cut Deal on Credit Card Bill"

ECONOMY / STIMULUS / BAILOUTS

LA Times' Mark Silva, "White House predicts budget deficit to grow to $1.84 trillion this year"

Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman, "Climate-Bill Breaks Bode Ill for Deficit"

Washington Post's Alec MacGillis, "Despite Stimulus Funds, States to Cut More Jobs"

LA Times' Jim Puzzanghera and Mike Dorning, "Obama tax proposal would hit securities dealers, life insurance firms, big estates"

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

NY Times' Michael Slackman, "Egypt to Be Center Stage in Obama's Address to Arabs"

Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel, "White House lobbies for Olympics in Chicago"

LA Times' Jim Puzzanghera, "Antitrust enforcer Christine Varney vows tough new efforts"

MINNESOTA SENATE RECOUNT

Hotline On Call's Felicia Sonmez, "Should Coleman Concede? Steele Says, 'Hell, No'"

St. Paul Pioneer Press' Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, "Al Franken answers Norm Coleman Senate election appeal: It's over, we won"

FUTURE RACES

The Hill's Alexander Bolton, "Bailouts crimp Senate Dem fundraising"

2009 NJ Governor: Newark Star-Ledger's Claire Heninger, "Biden will help Corzine kick off re-election campaign"

2010 CO Senate: Denver Post's Michael Riley, "Bennet among Hill's most moneyed"

2010 NV Senate: Las Vegas Sun's Jon Ralston, "Reid/Obama event to feature Midler, Crow"

2010 NY Senate: CQ Politics' Jonathan Allen and Emily Cadei, "Israel Tells Colleagues He'll Take On Gillibrand"

2010 PA Senate: Politico's Jeanne Cummings, "Will cash follow Specter?"

ETC.

Washington Post's Carol D. Leonnig, "Nephew Mentioned Rep. Murtha in Dealings as Contractor"

Washington Post's Peter Slevin and Kari Lydersen, "The Obama Tourism Industry Is Booming in Chicago"

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    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.