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Politics Today: Obama Reboots on Health Care

Politics Today is's inside look at the key stories driving the day in Politics, written by CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

**Previewing President Obama's health care speech...

**Dodd turns down health committee chairmanship

**More movement in race to fill Kennedy seat...

HEALTH CARE: President Obama's much-anticipated speech to a Joint Session of Congress starts at 8pm ET, but until then there will be two questions being asked: "What are the 'specifics' he's going to lay out in terms of health care?" and "What progress will the Senate make on their version of health reform today?"

With regards to the first question, Mr. Obama is walking a tightrope, especially regarding his support of the so-called "public option" or government-run health care. If he shows only tepid backing of it, the large number of liberal Democrats who support it will be sure to revolt moving forward. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted yesterday that a public option will be in any legislation that comes out of the House.

However, if Mr. Obama comes out solidly in support of it then he risks backlash from the significant number of moderate and conservative Democrats in the House and Senate, who could derail his attempt at reform. There are at least a couple of dozen House Democrats who have said they'd vote against any bill that includes a public option and House leaders such as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn have publicly backed off the call for a mandatory public option.

The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman and Janet Adamy report that the president will "endorse" the public option in his remarks tonight.

"President Barack Obama, in a high-stakes speech Wednesday to Congress and the nation, will press for a government-run insurance option in a proposed overhaul of the U.S. health-care system that has divided lawmakers and voters for months.

"White House officials say the president will detail what he wants in the health-care overhaul, as well as say he is open to better ideas on a government plan if lawmakers have them.

"Democratic plans call for requiring most Americans to carry health insurance. Failure to comply could cost families as much as $3,800 a year, according to a new Senate proposal.

"The president is likely to say that a government-run insurance plan, known as the 'public option,' will not provide a level of subsidies that give it an unfair advantage over private insurers, according to aides familiar with the speech preparations."

The Hill's Mike Soraghan, Alexander Bolton and Sam Youngman report "a Democratic leadership aide who sat in on an administration briefing Tuesday said that while Mr. Obama will offer support Wednesday for a public option, the president will not insist on it.

"'He's going to say it's the best tool for reducing costs,' the aide said. 'I think he's going to be a bit noncommittal.'"

"Obama 'will not abandon the public option' on Wednesday night, but will make clear that he sees it as 'the best mechanism, but not the only mechanism,' according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity Tuesday because he wasn't authorized to speak in advance of the speech," adds McClatchy Newspapers' David Lightman.

"The official said that Obama wants 'to break the logjam between the progressives and the centrists' inside the Democratic Party.

"White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was coy when asked Tuesday about the public option, but he, too, suggested a push for compromise by the liberal wing of the party. 'The president continues to believe that increasing choice and competition through additional options for people to get health insurance is tremendously important,' Gibbs said. ...

"The House of Representatives, where three committees have voted to back legislation including a public option, is expected to approve legislation with one, perhaps later this month. ...

"The Senate, however, is unlikely to accept it, and Pelosi wouldn't rule out accepting alternatives once the two chambers pass different bills and final House-Senate negotiations begin. ...

"The summer left Obama in a weakened position," adds the Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicholas. "Once the dominant communicator in American politics, he has seen the healthcare debate sidetracked by false warnings that government 'death panels' would be employed to snuff out Grandma. Distractions arose over past remarks made by mid-level aides. Even a benign back-to-school speech that Obama gave to students Tuesday became a vehicle for conservative activists to warn of presidential 'indoctrination.'

"Obama's poll numbers slipped during the summer break. But more worrisome for the White House is the power shift that occurred as Congress engaged in the details of the healthcare overhaul that was a centerpiece of the president's 2008 campaign…

"One lawmaker on Tuesday laid out a proposal that could become a model for attracting moderates. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, proposed creating nonprofit insurance cooperatives in an attempt to cut premium costs while raising the quality of care. Baucus also would impose taxes on high-end insurance plans to help cover the cost of extending health coverage to more Americans.

"His proposal seems likely to fall short of its goal of drawing substantial Republican support, but it could bring in moderate lawmakers, including some Republicans."

"[I]n a meeting Tuesday, Baucus was unable to persuade his 'Gang of Six' bipartisan negotiators to endorse the nearly $900 billion plan, which does not include many provisions that liberal lawmakers are clamoring to see in a final measure," writethe Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
"At a private White House strategy meeting, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, told Mr. Obama they intended to produce a health care bill he could sign despite criticism of the health plans that boiled over during the summer recess, according to those knowledgeable about the White House session," The writes the Associated Press' Jennifer Loven. "'If they don't want to, we can't worry about that,' said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely discuss behind-the-scenes thinking.

"But that is no longer Obama's biggest difficulty, a fact underscored by the conflicting advice he was getting from within his own party.

"Rep. Zack Space, D-Ohio, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog coalition, said Obama should 'appeal to both sides of the aisle, and to everyone involved in this situation, to embrace a sense of compromise and moderation.'

"But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, said he wanted Obama to state his unequivocal support for a government-run health insurance option to compete with private companies, and to clearly distance himself from the two alternatives now circulating. One of those would structure a public plan so that it would be triggered only if private insurance companies weren't providing enough affordable choices in certain areas; the other would set up nonprofit co-ops."

Meantime, former Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, weighed in on the health care debate with an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, calling for "market-oriented" and "patient-centered" reform as opposed to a "top down government plan." She also continued fanning the flames on "death panels."

"Is it any wonder that many of the sick and elderly are concerned that the Democrats' proposals will ultimately lead to rationing of their health care by—dare I say it—death panels? Establishment voices dismissed that phrase, but it rang true for many Americans," Palin wrote. "Working through 'normal political channels,' they made themselves heard, and as a result Congress will likely reject a wrong-headed proposal to authorize end-of-life counseling in this cost-cutting context."

Politico's Alex Isenstadt, "Charles Boustany will deliver the Republican response to Barack Obama's speech"

Politico's John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei, "Obama's media skills face pivotal test"

Washington Post's Michael D. Shear and Ceci Connolly on Mr. Obama's health care reform fight while a state senator in Illinois.

Bloomberg News' Nicholas Johnston, "Obama Says New Tax on Sugary Drinks Worth 'Exploring'": "President Barack Obama said he is willing to consider taxing soda and other sugary drinks as Congress debates overhauling the U.S. health-care system. 'I actually think it's an idea that we should be exploring,' Obama said in an interview with Men's Health magazine that goes on sale next week. 'There's no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda.'"

Associated Press, "Congress Considers Fining the Uninsured"

Associated Press' Steve LeBlanc, "Questions, answers on requiring health insurance"

New York Times' Steven Greenhouse, "Bristling at Health Plan to Cover Early Retirees"

Washington Post's Jacqueline L. Salmon, "Opposition to Health-Care Reform Revives Christian Right"

New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Despite Fears, Health Care Overhaul Is Moving Ahead"

4791534DODD TURNING DOWN HEALTH COMMITTEE CHAIRMANSHIP: The Washington Post's Paul Kane reports, "Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) has decided against succeeding his close friend and mentor, the late Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) as chairman of the chamber's health committee, a senior Senate aide said Tuesday night.

"The decision would set in motion a game of musical chairs involving committee chairmanships after Kennedy's death.

"Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is next in line after Dodd to assume the chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and multiple sources in the Harkin orbit, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations are internal, said Harkin would be certain to take over the post.

"Dodd has scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. Wednesday to announce his decision. His aides did not respond to questions about the decision Tuesday evening, and the senator declined to answer reporters' questions as he entered the chamber for an evening vote.

"While Kennedy battled brain cancer for 15 months, Dodd, Harkin and other Democrats on the committee divided up the chairman's responsibilities, with Dodd overseeing the panel's health-care legislation. When the Senate takes up that critical legislation later this year, Dodd is expected to continue being the public face of the committee's effort, a decision that might give him a boost in a tough reelection battle in 2010."

SUCCEEDING TED KENNEDY: Latest tally – IN: Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D, pictured at left), Rep. Michael Capuano (D), Canton Selectman Bob Burr (R). OUT: Former Rep. Joe Kennedy (D), Former Rep. Marty Meehan (D), Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (R). MAYBE: Rep. Stephen Lynch (D), Rep. Ed Markey (D), Rep. John Tierney (D), businessman and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos (R), former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling (R).

"The field of politicians vying to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is more crowded today after U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano pulled nomination papers and millionaire Brockton businessman Christy Mihos said he's mulling a Republican run," write the Boston Herald's Hillary Chabot and Dave Wedge.

"Capuano, who plans on making a formal announcement next week, holds Joseph P. Kennedy II's old seat. He evoked the late Sen. Kennedy yesterday. 'Ted Kennedy was a fighter, and I think the people of Massachusetts want and deserve a fighter,' said Capuano (D-Somerville). ...

"In addition to Capuano and Attorney General Martha Coakley, U.S. Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-South Boston) has pulled Senate papers. U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Malden), a close confidant of Ted Kennedy Jr., said he's considering a run.

"Former congressman Marty Meehan said yesterday he won't run and will remain chancellor at University of Massachusetts at Lowell."

"Amid the jockeying, a new name emerged from outside the sphere of politics: Alan Khazei, the 48-year-old cofounder of City Year, the nationwide community service program for young adults, said he was seriously considering jumping into the Democratic primary," adds the Boston Globe's Frank Phillips.

2009 VA GOV: Washington Post's Amy Gardner, "After Thesis Uproar, McDonnell's Strongly Worded Comments on Gays Resurface"

2009 NJ GOV: Philadelphia Inquirer's Cynthia Burton, "N.J. candidate Daggett goes for humor in TV ad"

Newark Star-Ledger's Chris Mergerian and Claire Heininger, "GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie downplays driving record"

Daily Orange's Bethany Bump, "Biden to speak at SU on education": "Vice President Joe Biden will return to his alma mater Wednesday to deliver a speech on college access and affordability, in his role as chair of the White House Task Force on Middle Class Families."

Associated Press' Mark Sherman, "'Hillary: The Movie' gets new airing at high court": "The justices were hearing arguments in the case Wednesday for the second time. It began as a dispute over whether a 90-minute movie attacking Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential ambitions should be regulated as a campaign ad. But it took on greater significance after the justices decided to use the case to consider whether to ease restrictions, established in two earlier decisions now at issue, on how corporations and labor unions may spend money to influence elections."

Tallahassee Democrat, "Mel Martinez to say farewell to U.S. Senate today": " U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez is expected to give his farewell speech on the Senate floor this morning. His resignation becomes official in the afternoon, and his replacement, George LeMieux, will be sworn into the Senate by Vice President Joe Biden at 2:45 p.m. Thursday."

McClatchy Newspapers' Steve Lyttle and Ann Doss Helms, "Few students opt out of Obama's nationwide pep talk"

New York Times' Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, "U.S. in Delicate Spot as Fraud Claims Mount in Afghan Vote"

Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Hughes, "Climate Bill to Be Slowed by Health-Care Debate"

Washington Post's David A. Farenthold, "Environmental Groups Wait to See Definitive Action From Obama"

The State's John O'Connor, "Harrell pushes governor to resign": "House Speaker Bobby Harrell urged Gov. Mark Sanford to resign Tuesday, warning the state would become 'bogged down' by the embattled governor's 'distractions.'"

Washington Post's Peter Slevin, "Blagojevich Says Charges Are All Lies": "As former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D) sees it while awaiting trial on corruption charges, 'the story's upside down.' Far from brazenly peddling influence while in office, he swears he was 'an honest, hardworking governor for the people.' 'Every allegation's a lie,' Blagojevich said in a telephone interview Tuesday from New York, where he is promoting his new book, 'The Governor.' 'What ever happened to the presumption of innocence?'"

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