Politics Today: Pelosi Opts for a Moderate Public Option

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:

** Not enough votes in the House for a liberal public option...

** The 2009 races heat up...

** A closer look at the provinces in Afghanistan...

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Overnight, Mr. Obama made an unexpected trip to Dover Air Force Base to pay his respects to the 18 U.S. personnel killed in Afghanistan this week as their bodies were flown home. The president met with the families of the fallen and attended a "dignified transfer" ceremony.

"It was the president's first trip to the Delaware air base, the main point of entry for the nation's war dead to return home," the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny points out. "The trip was a symbolic one for Mr. Obama — intended to convey the gravity of his decision as he moves closer to announcing whether he will send more troops to Afghanistan."

Per a White House press pool report, "The fallen consist of 7 U.S. Army soldiers and 3 Drug Enforcement Agency agents killed when their MH-47 Chinook crashed at Darreh-ye-bum, and 8 U.S. soldiers killed when their STRYKER personnel vehicle was struck by an IED blast in the Arghandab River Valley. Both incidents occurred on October 26, the military said. The deaths contributed to the deadliest month for the U.S. in Afghanistan."

Today, President Barack Obama speaks to small business owners, members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (whose relationship with this White House has grown icy in recent weeks) and members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses to "discuss his plan to help small businesses, including increasing access to capital and pushing for health reform that gives small businesses the ability to control health costs," per a White House official.

This afternoon, Obama meets with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore in the Oval Office and has a closed meeting in the Oval Office with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. The president also will sign the Girl Scouts USA Centennial Commemorative Coin Act and will then meet with members of Congress on health care reform.

5209744HEALTH CARE: "Paving the way for a crucial vote on healthcare legislation in the next two weeks, House Democratic leaders plan to unveil a compromise bill today that would create a nationwide government-run insurance plan but omit what many liberals consider the key to cost control," report the Los Angeles Times' Noam N. Levey and Janet Hook.

"According to senior lawmakers and aides, the so-called public option in the new compromise would not dictate what the plan can pay hospitals, doctors and other providers. Instead, the federal government would have to negotiate rates with providers, much as private insurers do.

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and her lieutenants made that concession in hopes of winning over conservative Democrats. Many of those lawmakers fear that payments based on lower Medicare rates -- the formula Pelosi originally supported -- would not be enough to sustain providers in rural areas."

"Speaker Pelosi evidently fell well short of the votes needed for the 'robust' public option," reports the New York Times' Robert Pear.

"A whip count, prepared Tuesday, shows that 47 House Democrats opposed that approach while 8 more were 'leaning no.' That suggests that Ms. Pelosi had lined up, at most, 201 votes of the 218 she would probably need. Ms. Pelosi's difficulties in securing votes for the most liberal version of a government insurance plan were illustrated by four members of her caucus.

"Representative Ike Skelton, Democrat of Missouri, who faces a serious re-election challenge next year, said: 'Health insurance reform must not include a public option. While access to health insurance ought to be expanded to reduce costs for everyone, the public option could have the unintended consequence of forcing private health insurance providers out of business.'

"Another moderate Democrat, Representative Jim Matheson of Utah, said there were better ways to foster competition. He prefers nonprofit member-run cooperatives, rather than a government plan.

"Representatives Kathy Dahlkemper, of western Pennsylvania, and Steve Kagen, from the Green Bay area of Wisconsin, support a public option, but believe the government plan should negotiate rates with health care providers. Aides to the two Democratic lawmakers said Medicare rates in their districts were inadequate."

The Wall Street Journal's Martin Vaughn and Naftali Bendavid add, "The House bill is also likely to expand eligibility for the Medicaid program to those with incomes up to 150% of the poverty level. That could keep costs down, since it would be cheaper for the government to insure low-income families through Medicaid than to provide subsidies for purchasing private insurance. The Medicaid expansion is likely to prompt protests from the states, who share the program's costs with the federal government.

"A spokesman for Ms. Pelosi said the bill will 'meet the president's target' of costing less than $900 billion. But the total cost after adding in a change to protect seniors from a gap in coverage for prescription drugs is expected to be more than $1 trillion. The costs are offset by a surtax on high earners and cuts to existing programs.

"The legislation would require companies with a payroll of $500,000 or more to offer health coverage to employees, or pay a penalty of at least 2% of payroll. Some earlier House versions set the threshold at $250,000. The penalty gradually rises, and firms with payroll greater than $750,000 would pay a penalty of 8% of payroll. Senate versions of the bill have weaker penalties."

On the Senate side, the Wall Street Journal's Janet Adamy reports, "Business Groups Push Hard Against the Senate Bill": " Lobbyists for employers thought they had staved off a public plan in the Senate after the Finance Committee opted not to include the idea in its version of the health legislation. They were caught by surprise when the public plan resurfaced and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said it would be in the bill brought to the Senate floor, albeit with an option for states not to participate.

"President Barack Obama invited a group of small-business owners to meet with him at the White House Thursday. He will make the case that the health overhaul will give them the ability to control health costs.

"The Business Roundtable, an association of company executives, is calling and visiting lawmakers to persuade them not to include the public plan in the legislation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday began airing cable-television advertisements in seven states arguing that the public option will lead to higher taxes and increase the national debt."

2009 RACES: New Jersey Governor: "Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie predicted victory and mocked Gov. Corzine on Wednesday as he began his final bus tour toward Election Day," reports the Asbury Park Press' Jason Method.

"Even with a new Quinnipiac University Poll showing him behind, Christie said he and his running mate, Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno, were headed to Trenton to 'turn it upside down' to cut government spending and taxes…

"Obama is due to make his third campaign visit to the state on Sunday as the Quinnipiac Poll showed Corzine up by 5 percentage points, beyond the polls' margin of error. But nearly one in five likely voters also said they might change their mind before Election Day."

"[Independent Chris] Daggett, who has his own bus tour planned this weekend, visited a handful of Morris County diners [Wednesday] to explain his property tax plan and argue for a third-party alternative," adds the Newark Star-Ledger's Claire Heininger and Lisa Fleisher.

"'People want someone who is more centrist,' Daggett said during a break from handshakes and between mouthfuls of a grilled chicken sandwich with fries. 'The two parties have cast themselves to extremes.'"

Virginia Governor: " A day after President Barack Obama rallied Democrats in Norfolk for gubernatorial nominee R. Creigh Deeds, national Republican headliners hopscotched Virginia for front-runner Bob McDonnell," report the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Olympia Meola and Jeff E. Schapiro.

"Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, a once and future presidential prospect, appeared with McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and attorney general hopeful Ken Cuccinelli, stopping in Henrico County to echo the campaign's jobs-and-economy theme and help pad campaign coffers…

"Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, another Republican presidential candidate in 2008, also blitzed Virginia for the GOP ticket.

"Meanwhile, Deeds rolled out a two-minute video on his Web site recapping the Obama visit Tuesday and imploring volunteers to join the get-out-the-vote effort that Democrats say can salvage Deeds' struggling campaign."

NY-23 Special Election: "Two of the three candidates running for the 23rd Congressional District spent about 75 minutes fielding questions on a myriad of issues at a forum Wednesday night," reports the Plattsburgh Press Republican's Joe Lotemplio. "But the biggest news from the event might have been the one candidate who did not show up.

"Douglas Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate, was in Plattsburgh on Wednesday but didn't attend the forum in E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium at Plattsburgh State. Republican Dierdre 'Dede' Scozzafava and Democrat William Owens both participated, before a crowd of about 400 people...

"Rob Ryan, Hoffman's campaign spokesman, made comments to the Press-Republican about 30 minutes before the event that suggested North Country Public Radio's involvement was the reason Hoffman did not attend.

"'North Country Public Radio is the perfect venue to decide who is the most liberal candidate in the race,' Ryan said, adding that Hoffman would participate in a televised debate in Syracuse today. 'And he will win that debate,' Ryan said."

(AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)
AFGHANISTAN: "President Obama has asked senior officials for a province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan to determine which regions are being managed effectively by local leaders and which require international help, information that his advisers say will guide his decision on how many additional U.S. troops to send to the battle," report the Washington Post's Scott Wilson and Greg Jaffe.

"Obama made the request in a meeting Monday with Vice President Biden and a small group of senior advisers helping him decide whether to expand the war. The detail he is now seeking also reflects the administration's turn toward Afghanistan's provincial governors, tribal leaders and local militias as potentially more effective partners in the effort than a historically weak central government that is confronting questions of legitimacy after the flawed Aug. 20 presidential election.

"'This is obviously a complicated security environment in Afghanistan, and the president wants the clearest possible understanding of what the challenges are to our forces and what is required to meet that challenge,' said a senior administration official who has participated in the Afghanistan policy review and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it. 'Any successful and sustainable strategy must clearly align the resources we provide with the goals we are trying to achieve.'"

Meantime, "Even as the Pakistani government plays down the American role in its military operations in Taliban-controlled areas along the border with Afghanistan, the United States has quietly rushed hundreds of millions of dollars in arms, equipment and sophisticated sensors to Pakistani forces in recent months, said senior American and Pakistani officials," reports the
New York Times' Eric Schmitt.

"During preparations this spring for the Pakistani campaigns in Swat and South Waziristan, President Obama personally intervened at the request of Pakistan's top army general to speed the delivery of 10 Mi-17 troop transport helicopters. Senior Pentagon officials have also hurried spare parts for Cobra helicopter gunships, night vision goggles, body armor and eavesdropping equipment to the fight…

"The increasing American role in shoring up the Pakistani military's counterinsurgency abilities comes as the Obama administration debates how much of a troop commitment to make in neighboring Afghanistan. It also takes place as Taliban attacks are spreading into Pakistani cities. It is unclear whether Pakistani authorities are using any of the sophisticated surveillance equipment to combat the urban terrorism.

"Underscoring the complexity of the relationship between the allies, Pakistani officials are loath to publicize the aid because of the deep-seated anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. And they privately express frustration about the pace and types of aid, which totals about $1.5 billion this year."

FUNDRAISING PERKS: "Republican leaders called for an investigation into perks President Obama handed out to top Democratic donors as campaign-finance groups expressed dismay Wednesday that the administration was not doing more to reform the culture in Washington," report the Washington Times' Matthew Mosk and S.A. Miller

"Internal Democratic National Committee documents obtained by The Times showed that the party had offered up quarterly briefings by senior advisers in exchange for the maximum legal donation of $30,400, or a willingness to raise $300,000 in time for the 2010 midterm elections.

"White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed the criticism, saying the Obama administration has already taken historic steps in agreeing to release visitor logs that will show the names of everyone who sets foot into the White House.The logs will not cover the first eight months of the president's term.

"Mr. Gibbs also downplayed the fact that a number of top fundraisers who collected six-figure sums for the president's campaign, people known as 'bundlers,' played golf with the president or were granted access to the White House complex to go bowling, play basketball and use the movie theater. Many of those guests, Mr. Gibbs said, were Mr. Obama's close friends."

CBS News' Sharyl Attkisson, "Is the White House for Sale?"


The Associated Press' Brett Blackledge and Matt Apuzzo, "Stimulus jobs overstated by thousands"

NY Times Magazine' s Jodi Kantor, "The First Marriage"

USA Today's Richard Wolf, "Obama says he's just getting warmed up"

McClatchy Newspapers' Margaret Talev, "Obama signs first major gay-rights law"

Wall Street Journal's Neil King Jr.,"Politicians Butt In at Bailed-Out GM"

Politico's Jonathan Martin, "Sarah Palin's $100k speaking fee has Iowa Republicans wincing"

Austin American-Statesman's Jason Embry, "Cheney will stump with Hutchison"

Boston Globe's Susan Milligan, "Ex-senator Brooke gets gold medal of Congress"

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.