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Politics Today: Dodging the Race Debate

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:

** The president pushes for more health reform progress…

** The White House skirts the race question…

** Weighing decisions in Afghanistan…

5315673HEALTH CARE: President Obama continues his health care push with a rally at the University of Maryland today while the proposal everyone had expected to bring senators together – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus' plan – only has both Republicans and Democrats scurrying. However, there is optimism – not only from Baucus – that his plan could truly be a starting point on the road to consensus.

"On the surface, it appears that no one is happy with Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) -- and that may be the best news President Obama has had in months," writes the Washington Post's Ceci Connolly.

"Within minutes of the release of the Senate Finance Committee chairman's long-awaited health-care reform bill Wednesday, the attacks started flying. Liberal Democrats and allies, particularly labor unions, fumed. Republicans, after being courted for months, denounced the work as pure partisanship.

"But behind the rhetorical fireworks was a sense that the fragile coalition of major industry leaders and interest groups central to refashioning the nation's $2.5 trillion health-care system remains intact. As they scoured the 223-page document, many of the most influential players found elements to dislike, but not necessarily reasons to kill the effort. Most enticing was the prospect of 30 million new customers.

"At the White House, after the delays and drama of summer, strategists spoke finally of movement and a possible path toward success on the president's centerpiece domestic policy goal. To keep up the pressure, Obama met with three lawmakers who had warned they would not support the Baucus bill."

However, the guarded optimism didn't stop the sparks from flying Wednesday.

"For months, [Baucus] and five other committee members, three from each party, struggled to craft bipartisan legislation. They finally gave up, and Baucus went his own way," writes McClatchy Newspapers' David Lightman.

"He still worked Wednesday to woo Republican support, but only Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, seemed hopeful. 'The bill is a work in progress,' she said.

"More typical was the view of Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming, the top Senate health committee Republican, who said he was "deeply disappointed" that the group of six, of which he was one, couldn't agree.

"'The proposal released today still spends too much, and it does too little to cut health care costs for those with health insurance,' he said….

"Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the second-ranking Finance Committee Democrat, branded co-ops 'untested and unsubstantiated, and should not be considered as a national model for health insurance.'"

(CBS/AP)
The New York Times' Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn report, "The budget office said the cost of Mr. Baucus's bill would be fully offset by new taxes and fees, along with savings squeezed from Medicare, so it could reduce the cumulative total of federal budget deficits by $49 billion over the next 10 years. At the end of that period, it said, new revenues and savings would be growing faster than costs, so the bill could also help reduce deficits in the decade after 2019.

"Like the other bills, Mr. Baucus's proposal would require most Americans to have health insurance, with financial penalties for those who flout the requirement."

Those savings from Medicare, however, are not immediate, point out the Wall Street Journal's Janet Adamy.

"The latest health bill to emerge from the Senate contains a slew of measures designed to control costs. But it would be years before they kick in, and many may only put a dent in spending...

"The bill would cut $409 billion from Medicare over the next decade, according to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. It also creates an independent Medicare Commission that would have new powers to eliminate wasteful spending in Medicare that would save about $23 billion over a decade.

"The Senate Finance Committee staff said the most-powerful mechanism in the bill to lower health spending was a 35% tax on insurance companies for particularly generous health plans they would offer, defined as those worth $8,000 a year for an individual and $21,000 a year for a family. Health policy experts said such plans encourage liberal use of health services, and that taxing them would discourage employers from offering them."

CBS News' Nancy Cordes, "A Bid for Bipartisan Reform"

Washington Post's Lori Montgomery and Shailagh Murray, "Baucus Measure Would Expand Care Without Adding to Deficit"

CBSNews.com's Stephanie Condon, "Baucus' Health Bill Just the Beginning"

The New York Times' Carl Hulse looks at the reality of whether Senate Democrats can attract 60 votes to pass health care reform, "For Democrats, 60 Senators Is the Magic Number for Health Bill"

The Associated Press' Charles Babington writes, however, "Dems eye yes-no vote on health care"

Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., writes an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, "Massachusetts Is a Health-Reform Model"

Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence, "In Health Endgame, Senate Democrats Need GOP-Style Discipline"

Associated Press' Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Erica Werner, "A look at health care plans in Congress"

5299270PRESIDENT OBAMA & RACE: "President Obama has long suggested that he would like to move beyond race. The question now is whether the country will let him.

"He woke up on Wednesday to a rapidly intensifying debate about how his race factors into the broader discussion of civility in politics, a question prompted in part by former President Jimmy Carter's assertion Tuesday that racism was behind a Republican lawmaker's outburst against Mr. Obama last week as the president addressed a joint session of Congress," report the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg.

"Even before that, several conservatives had accused their liberal counterparts of unfairly tainting them as racists for engaging in legitimate criticism of the White House.

"Mr. Obama's response to all this, aides say, has been to tell his staff not to be distracted by the charges and to focus on health care and the rest of his policy agenda.

"'He could probably give a very powerful speech on race, just as he did in the course of the campaign,' said Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. 'But right now his top domestic priority is health care reform. It's difficult, challenging and complicated. And if he leads by example, our country will be far better off.' ...

The Washington Post's Anne E. Kornblut and Krissah Thompson add, "at the White House, the official line is: Race issue? What race issue?

"'I'm not sure I see this large national conversation going on right now,' White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday. He said Obama 'does not believe that that criticism comes based on the color of his skin,' attributing it instead to honest policy disagreements.

"The criticism at issue includes a movement questioning Obama's citizenship, the rancor at last month's town hall meetings on health care and protests in which Obama has been likened to Adolf Hitler. Suspicions were confirmed for many African Americans last week when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted 'You lie!' at Obama as he addressed Congress. ...

"Alluding to what he called Carter's 'wisdom,' NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said the former president has given voice to a sentiment that many feel. 'He is correct that the so-called tea party folks are unfortunately part of a lineage of groups that have throughout the history of our country sought to divide us,' Jealous said, referring to grass-roots conservatives who have protested the administration's handling of the economy."

Los Angeles Times' Robin Abcarian and Kate Linthicum and Richard Fausset, "Conservatives say it's their turn for empowerment": "The Age of Obama has brought many things to the American scene -- none more important than the proof that skin color is no barrier to success. But for some white Americans, it has also helped crystallize a sense of dislocation, anger and powerlessness."

CBS News' Chip Reid, "War of Words Over Race"

Politics Daily's Walter Shapiro, "For Obama Foes, It's the Economy, Not Race"

(CBS)
AFGHANISTAN: "President Barack Obama said he'll hold off deciding whether to add more U.S. troops to the war in Afghanistan, as Democratic lawmakers raised concerns that he lacks a clear plan and measures of progress," report Bloomberg News' Viola Gienger and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan.

"'You have to get the strategy right and then make the determinations about resources,' Obama told reporters at the White House yesterday following a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 'I am going to take a very deliberate process in making those decisions.'

"Senator John Kerry led expressions of doubt on Capitol Hill after administration officials briefed lawmakers in closed sessions yesterday on an assessment by the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal. The reviews also covered gauges the administration has developed to track progress on the political and security fronts.

"'At the very moment when our troops and our allies' troops are sacrificing more and more, our path and our progress seem to be growing less and less clear,' Kerry said at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and Vietnam veteran who heads the panel, said he is concerned about the utility of adding more forces to the war."

Meantime, McClatchy Newspapers' Nancy A. Youssef reports, "The White House Wednesday presented Congress with eight general yardsticks to measure success in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but didn't say how they'd help the administration determine how well U.S. policy in the region is working.

"Indeed, White House officials said they weren't sure if they'd use the metrics to help President Barack Obama decide whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters Wednesday.

"Instead, the administration official, who spoke with reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the White House devised the metrics to hold itself accountable. A senior defense official, however, said the metrics also are designed to help guide the White House as it begins what could be weeks of deliberations about the way ahead in Afghanistan and Pakistan, six months after it first laid out its goals there."

New York Times' David E. Sanger, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, "Obama Offers Ways to Rate Efforts in Afghan Region"

CBS News' David Martin, "More Troops in Afghanistan?"

(AP)
BIDEN IN IRAQ: "Several blasts shook the area near the U.S. Embassy late Wednesday, marking a second day of attacks around the facility during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden," writes the Wall Street Journal's Gina Chon. "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki was hosting Mr. Biden at his palace a few miles away at the time of the attacks. The blasts were heard at the palace, and U.S. and Iraqi security officials temporarily prevented reporters who had gathered to attend a briefing by the two from leaving the building.

"The blasts appeared to be from rockets or mortars. They come a day after several rockets fell near the embassy on Tuesday, coinciding with Mr. Biden's arrival. Iraqi authorities said two Iraqis died from injuries sustained in the Tuesday explosions.

"Earlier in the evening, Mr. Biden, in a statement read to reporters, reaffirmed Washington's timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. That timetable calls for the withdrawal of all combat troops by the end of August 2010, and the complete withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops by the end of 2011. He also praised Iraqis for resilience and restraint after Aug. 19 bombings in Baghdad that left almost 100 Iraqis dead."

"Vice President Biden pressed Iraqi leaders Wednesday to approve as quickly as possible legislation that establishes rules for the planned January general election and to make the next round of bids to develop Iraqi oil concessions more attractive to foreign investors," adds the Washington Post's Scott Wilson.

"In a series of meetings in the Green Zone, Biden listened to the concerns of Iraqi leaders, now in the heat of an election season that Obama administration officials acknowledge will delay until after the vote any progress on such pressing issues as passing a law on the equitable distribution of national oil revenue among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds."

(AP)
KENNEDY SUCCESSOR: "Massachusetts lawmakers braced Thursday for a contentious debate on a bill allowing Gov. Deval Patrick to name an interim appointment to the Senate seat left vacant by the death last month of Edward Kennedy," reports the Associated Press' Steve LeBlanc

"Democrats, who hold overwhelming majorities in both chambers, are hoping to push through the bill quickly allowing Patrick, who supports the change, to name an appointee as early as next week…

"Obama presidential counselor David Axelrod has ... contacted Massachusetts officials, according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Obama aides hope to regain a filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate.

"The special election is scheduled for Jan. 19. A primary is set for Dec. 8.

"Those said to be under consideration for an interim appointment include former Gov. Michael Dukakis, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk Jr.; former Massachusetts Senate President Robert Travaglini, former Kennedy staff chief Nick Littlefield, Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree and former state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien."

The Wall Street Journal's William M. Bulkeley and Jennifer Levitz, "Vacant Senate Seat Triggers Flip-Flop"

Meantime, "Boston Celtics co-owner and Bain venture capitalist Stephen Pagliuca and former advertising mogul Jack Connors have ended their effort to take over the struggling Boston Globe as a non-profit, according to a Pagliuca adviser. ... The Weston Democrat is slated to announce a different bid today - for the Senate seat vacated by the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy," reports the Boston Herald's Hillary Chabot.

"The deep-pocketed Pagliuca, a self-described progressive Democrat - who is scheduled to appear at a morning Celtics charity event - will face questions about contributions to Republicans such as former President George W. Bush and former Gov. Mitt Romney."

2009 VA GOV: Washington Post's Anita Kumar, "In the N.Va. Debate, Some Questions to Answer"

2009 NJ GOV: Newark Star-Ledger's Claire Heininger, "Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush attends fundraiser for GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie": " Christie said Jeb Bush had been invited by a co-chair of the event at the Princeton Hyatt, and he didn't know Bush would be attending until he was on his way to the fundraiser. Christie said he and Bush talked briefly and took a picture together. Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine has hammered Christie for his personal and policy ties to George W. Bush, who appointed Christie as U.S. attorney in 2001 but later saw his approval ratings plummet in New Jersey. Christie was a fundraiser and campaign lawyer for Bush during his 2000 presidential campaign."

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