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Politics Today: Obama Turns Focus To Health Care

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:

**President Obama to talk health care during a meeting with governors today and a nationally-televised town meeting tonight…

**Tougher talk to Iran…

**Climate bill to be voted on this week…

**Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., returns to work today after a brief "disappearance"; turns out he was in South America, not the Appalachian Mountains…

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
PRESIDENT OBAMA TODAY: On the day after he focused part of his news conference on attempting to get health care reform back on track, Mr. Obama spends most of the day pushing the same topic.

This afternoon, at 2 p.m., he'll meet with Govs. Jennifer Granholm, D-Mich.; Jim Douglas, R-Vermont; Jim Doyle, D-Wisc.; Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; and Christine Gregoire, D-Wash., to talk about what they heard during the regional health care forums they hosted earlier this year.

Then tonight, the president tapes a town meeting-style event at the White House organized by ABC. The event will be taped at 8 p.m. ET for air tonight during a 10 p.m. special.

The Republican National Committee is running a TV ad today criticizing ABC and the president for teaming up on this event.

"Today a national TV network turns its airwaves over to President Obama's pitch for government-run health care," the announcer says in the ad that will run on national cable. "Shouldn't this be a bipartisan discussion?"

Meantime, "In an interview with ABC News that aired Wednesday, Obama declined to say whether he was open to taxing health benefits. But he indicated there was a breaking point in the balance sheets where he would say that the cost of reforming the system is too great for the federal government to handle," report the Associated Press' Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and David Espo.

"'I'm going to wait and see what ideas ultimately they (Congress) come up with,' he said. 'I think that if any reform that we get is not driving down costs in a serious way,' Obama added. 'If people say, 'We're just going to add more people onto a hugely inefficient system,' then I will say no. Because ... we can't afford it.'

(AP)
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies about the health care reform proposals to the House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning. She will tell "lawmakers Wednesday that President Barack Obama is willing to listen to suggestions on how to pay for a health care overhaul, as long as they don't increase the deficit," the AP reports.

"'The president is open to good ideas about how we finance health reform,' she said in testimony prepared for delivery to a House committee. 'But we are not open to deficit spending.'"

"President Obama made a detailed case on Tuesday for a new government-administered health insurance plan, but he did not rule out signing a bill that lacks such an option if he cannot win enough support from Democrats in Congress," write the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny and Robert Pear.

"In a White House news conference, Mr. Obama dismissed as 'not logical' the suggestion that a public plan, which is intended to create more competition and therefore act as a brake on the rise of health insurance costs, would undermine the private insurance market. He argued that a government-run plan competing with private insurers would be an 'important tool to discipline insurance companies' and scoffed at complaints that it could drive some out of business.

"'We have not drawn lines in the sand other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don't have health insurance or are underinsured,' Mr. Obama said. 'Those are the broad parameters that we've discussed.'

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence lays out the president's messages to Congress yesterday on the public option: "Message 1: Health care reform will not bust the budget, so chill out. … Message 2: Politicians should not be afraid of a public option. The public option is a government-administered health insurance plan designed to compete with private plans and drive down costs. … Message 3: He is losing patience with arguments from conservatives and insurers that a public plan will force private insurers out of business. … Message 4: He is not willing to call a public plan non-negotiable at this point. Asked point-blank if he'd sign a bill without a public plan, Obama didn't want to answer, and after some jousting he made clear he wasn't really going to."

CBS News' Sharyl Attkisson, "Would An Overhaul Hurt Health Care?"

Associated Press' Alan Fram, "Health bills prompt grumbles"

Washington Post's Ceci Connolly and Jon Cohen, "Most Want Health Reform But Fear Its Side Effects": "A majority of Americans see government action as critical to controlling runaway health-care costs, but there is broad public anxiety about the potential impact of reform legislation and conflicting views about the types of fixes being proposed on Capitol Hill, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll."

USA Today's John Fritze, "Lawmakers get 'generous' health plans": "They don't receive 'Cadillac' insurance plans, but when it comes to health benefits, studies suggest members of Congress are at least driving the best Buicks on the block. Congressional lawmakers, embroiled in a debate over how to provide coverage to 46 million uninsured people in the country, paid less at the doctor's office under their own insurance than the national average in 2008 but also shelled out up to 13% more for premiums, the studies show."

CQ Politics' Edward Epstein, "Spouses in Health Care Affect Members' Views": "Nearly four dozen members of Congress have spouses employed in the health care industry — ties that lawmakers acknowledge are influencing their thinking about how the health system should be overhauled."

5106578IRAN: During yesterday's at times contentious and testy news conference, President Obama, "in his strongest words yet against Iran … condemned the country's violent suppression of its people and lauded Iranians who've braved brutality to protest what they believe was a rigged election. The president opened a midday news conference by saying that the United States and the world 'have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonments of the last few days,'" report McClatchy Newspapers' Margaret Talev and Steven Thomma.

"'I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost,' Obama said of Iran. He added that the regime's handling of the situation was 'not encouraging' for prospects of renewing diplomacy with the United States, but said that Iran still would have a path to negotiations if its leaders wanted one."

"Obama's comments drew a clear distinction between the actions of police and militiamen on the streets of Tehran and other cities and the conduct of Iran's June 12 election -- even though protesters argue that the same hard-line faction is responsible for stealing the election and launching the crackdown," adds the Los Angeles Times' Paul Richter.

"The president has been carefully calibrating his words since the Iranian election, in which incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was named the winner despite charges of fraud by his main challenger, moderate former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi. U.S. officials are well aware that because of decades of animosity between the two nations, coming out strongly in favor of one side could harm those they are trying to help."

Washington Post's Thomas Erdbrink and William Branigin, "Iran Vows To Make Example of Arrestees"

Associated Press' Anne Gearan, "Iran nuclear concerns weigh heavy on US"

CBSNews.com's Brian Montopoli, "A More Contentious Obama Press Conference"

(CBS/AP)
CLIMATE BILL: "The House is moving toward a vote Friday on energy and climate change legislation, with several significant issues still unresolved but with Democratic leaders expressing confidence that they will muster the votes to pass it," reports the New York Times' John M. Broder.

"President Obama endorsed the measure on Tuesday at a White House news conference, calling it 'extraordinarily important.' …

"At the heart of the 1,201-page measure is a cap-and-trade program to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that scientists blame for global warming. Mr. Waxman and Mr. Markey are still negotiating elements of the complex legislation, and there is no certainty that they will assemble enough votes to pass it on Friday over near-unanimous Republican opposition."

An example of that opposition shows up in a new TV ad released by Newt Gingrich's American Solutions organization. Calling the bill a "National Energy Tax", an announcer says: "We'll lose more jobs, pay more for gas and electricity - pushing our economy to its breaking point." Details of the ad buy were not immediately available.

The Wall Street Journal's Susan Davis adds, "Seeking to solidify Republican opposition to a scheduled Friday House vote on Democrats' energy legislation, House Minority Leader John Boehner said the vote will have significant consequences in the midterm elections. 'This will be one of the defining debates of the 2010 cycle,' Boehner wrote in a memo to House Republicans. He criticized a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions as a 'scheme that will destroy American jobs, raise prices for gasoline, electricity, and other sources of energy, and devastate middle-class families and small businesses.'"

(AP Photo )
GOV. SANFORD: "Gov. Mark Sanford arrived in the Hartsville-Jackson International Airport this morning, having wrapped up a seven-day visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina, he said.

"Sanford said he had not been hiking along the Appalachian Trail, as his staff said in a Tuesday statement to the media," reports The State's Gina Smith.

"Sanford's whereabouts had been unknown since Thursday, and the mystery surrounding his absence fueled speculation about where he had been and who's in charge in his absence. His emergence Wednesday ended the mystery."

"The episode opened wide the rifts among Republican leaders in conservative South Carolina, as accusations were lobbed by both supporters and critics of Mr. Sanford -- who has been viewed as a potential contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination," add the Wall Street Journal's Alex Roth and Valerie Bauerlein.

"State Sen. Greg Ryberg, a Republican who is close to Mr. Sanford, said the issue was a 'man-made tempest' blown out of proportion by political enemies seeking to discredit the governor, including the state's lieutenant governor, André Bauer. Both are Republicans, though they have clashed in the past."

(AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
"South Carolina GOP Gov. Mark Sanford's disappearing act is reviving an often-whispered, if rarely written, question about presidential hopefuls: Just how strange is too strange?" asks Politico's Jonathan Martin. "It takes a unique person to run for the White House, but the dividing line between endearingly quirky and just downright odd can often separate winners from losers."

Associated Press, "A look at odd behavior by US governors"



SOTOMAYOR

Politico's Alex Isenstadt, "Republicans drop niceties, go on attack on Sotomayor"

Associated Press' Laurie Kellman, "New GOP tack: Will Sotomayor uphold Constitution?"

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN

Las Vegas Sun's Lisa Mascaro, "For Ensign, a new lot in Congress"

Las Vegas Review-Journal's Steve Tetreault, "Ensign expresses regrets at GOP event"

Washington Post's Paul Kane, "Colleagues Accept Ensign's Apology"

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

NY Times' Mark Landler, "Hillary Clinton Enlists Blumenthal for State Dept. Post"

MINNESOTA SENATE RECOUNT

St. Paul Pioneer Press' Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, "National Republican Senatorial Committee spends almost $1M to help Norm Coleman"

Minneapolis Star Tribune's Pat Doyle, "GOP spent $900,000 to help Coleman pay legal bills"

FUTURE RACES

Politico's Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Martin, "A Republican comeback?"

2009 VA Governor: Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman, "McDonnell Returns to Airwaves"

2010 FL Governor: St. Petersburg Times, "Jeb Bush raising money for Bill McCollum"

2010 TX Governor: Dallas Morning News' Christy Hoppe, "Texas Sen. Van de Putte won't run for governor"

2010 AR Senate: Benton County Record's Gary Lookadoo, "Race for Lincoln's Senate seat may be close"

2010 CT Senate: NY Times' David M. Halbfinger, "Dodd Turns to Kennedy for Help as Part of Early Campaign Blitz"

2010 DE Senate: Philadelphia Business Today's Joseph N. DiStefano, "Castle weighs Senate run"

2010 FL Senate: NY Times' Damien Cave, "Huckabee Stumps for Rubio in Fla. Senate Race"

2010 FL Senate: St. Petersburg Times, "Is Crist 'governing' or fundraising out of state?"

ETC.

Tribune's Mark Silva, "Obama: 'Former smoker,' not 'constant'"

NY Times' Motoko Rich, "Cheney to Publish His Memoir"

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    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.