By Rick Klein So who delivered the week’s biggest surprise — Sarah Palin, Mark McGwire, Harry Reid, or Harold Ford? OK, maybe we need a category of things we haven’t been expecting. For starters — what if Big Labor doesn’t roll over like everyone’s assumed? With the House back in town Tuesday — and a key Democratic caucus meeting to check in on health care Tuesday night — there’s a deal pretty much on the table, and health care reform stands on the verge of passing. Yet President Obama is again having some troubles with his allies. And if the House needed an edge in end-stage talks with the Senate — let’s just say Sen. Reid has had weeks where his political sway was a little greater. As the odd silence emanating out of the White House after Monday’s meeting with labor leaders indicates, selling the Cadillac tax is a tough one for the president. (Any time your own words get quoted back to you in the opposite direction, it’s hardly comfortable.) Big Labor does want a health care bill to pass; the key will be finding something they can declare victory on with their members. Then they just have to pay for their tweaks — and make those tweaks big enough to explain the reversal — and you’ve got a bill. “President Obama told union leaders at a private White House meeting on Monday that he remained committed to taxing high-cost insurance policies as a way to drive down health costs. But he also signaled that he was willing to amend the proposal to ‘make this work for working families,’ a senior administration official said,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Steven Greenhouse report in The New York Times. “Until now, Mr. Obama has taken a relatively hands-off approach to the specifics of the health care bill, instead leaving them to Congress. But last week, in a meeting with House leaders, he made clear his support for the excise tax, which many economists regard as an important way to bring down health care costs. … In delving into the nitty-gritty of health care negotiations for the first time, Mr. Obama risks alienating members of the labor movement, who worked hard to elect him.” Cue Harold A. Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters:
“The core political principle of this union is ‘we support those who support us.’ If candidates make a promise to us, we hold them accountable. … If President Obama continues to support it and signs a bill that includes the excise tax on workers, we will hold him accountable.” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: “Politicians who think that working people have it too good — too much health care, too much Social Security and Medicare, too much power on the job — are inviting a repeat of 1994.” Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.: “It is hanging by a thread, obviously. One or two votes could determine the outcome of this bill despite all the efforts over the last number of years,” Dodd said on CNBC, per ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf. But Trumka (and others) are pulling their final punches: “Trumka stopped short of his September threat that the AFL-CIO might not support the final bill — after all, he said, labor has been seeking health-care reform for decades. But individual members could sit on their hands,” Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post. Still clear where it’s going: “A compromise may be in the offing. Democratic negotiators are exploring a possibility that would not eliminate the tax entirely, but raise the threshold at which it applies in order to ensure that more middle-income Americans are spared,” the Los Angeles Times’ Peter Nicholas reports. A bad sign that nobody’s saying much? “The two polite, say-nothing statements [from the White House and the AFL-CIO] suggest no agreement is in sight, especially since the Democratic leadership contends that the Cadillac tax is necessary to help pay for health care reform without adding to an already bloated federal deficit,” the New York Daily News’ Ken Bazinet writes. Still waiting on a date… “Despite the fact that the two houses are expediting the process by bypassing a traditional conference committee to resolve their differences, it appears increasingly unlikely that Obama will see a final bill passed by both houses this month as he had hoped,” Time’s Karen Tumulty reports. “That is not just because of the difficulty in reaching a deal, but also because anything that is proposed must be scored by the Congressional Budget Office for its impact on the deficit, a process that could take nearly two weeks.” Looking at the next step: “Then we have to go out and sell it,” White House senior adviser David Axelrod tells National Journal’s Ron Brownstein. “I think we can run on this. I think there is so much in here that has value to every American, and mostly to people who have insurance.” Before we get there: “Democrats on both sides of the Capitol don’t expect to make much progress on formulating their offensive until they finish last year’s business,” Roll Call’s Tory Newmyer and Emily Pierce report. It helps if your Senate majority leader can focus on governing. “I could have used a better choice of words,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday. (And his choice to go to the cameras with some words early in the life of this controversy may help him weather it.) Forgiveness: “He apologized, recognizing that he didn’t use appropriate language, but there was nothing mean-spirited in what he had to say, and he’s always been on the right side of the issues,” President Obama told Roland Martin, per ABC’s Sunlen Miller. Maybe not so much: “[Sen. Russ] Feingold said he hasn’t decided whether Reid should resign his leadership role yet. The Wisconsin senator characterized Reid’s comments as ‘unfortunate and racially insensitive,’ ” per ABC affiliate WISN, in Milwaukee. Feingold, D-Wis.: “I’m thinking about that and we’re going to be getting together as a caucus next week and the topic will come up. I have not decided whether these comments merit that or not. They’re very unfortunate. They should have never been said. So, I need to think about it.” Backing — from Sen. Tom Coburn? “It pains me that Republicans are saying Harry Reid ought to step down. When you point a finger, you have four fingers pointing back at you,” Coburn, R-Okla., said Monday, per Politico’s Manu Raju. Is truth a defense? “Reid’s comments have prompted another discussion, one that is focused on what Reid actually said, rather than the politics — was the senator right?” ABC’s Jake Tapper and Karen Travers write. “Many prominent African Americans who spoke to ABC News today were offended by Reid’s use of the word ‘Negro.’ But they also said his observation was true — that Americans in general find lighter-skinned African Americans more socially acceptable than those with darker skin, especially if they speak eloquently.” Jeff Zeleny, in The New York Times: “The comment — made to the authors of a new book on the presidential campaign — is not so different from remarks Mr. Obama has made himself while navigating the complicated intersection of race and politics in America during his rapid rise to the White House.” President Obama spends the morning in Delaware, where he’ll attend the funeral of Vice President Joe Biden’s mother, Jean Biden. Then it’s private meetings back at the White House. A step ahead of the outrage — with banking executives to the Hill on Wednesday, talk of a special tax on banks as they prepare for bonus season: “The White House is baring its knuckles,” ABC’s Claire Shipman reported on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. “President Obama will try to recoup for taxpayers as much as $120 billion of the money spent to bail out the financial system, most likely through a tax on large banks, administration and Congressional officials said Monday,” Jackie Calmes reports in The New York Times. “The general idea is to devise a levy that would help reduce the budget deficit, which is now at a level not seen since World War II, and would also discourage the kinds of excessive risk-taking among financial institutions that led to a near collapse of Wall Street in 2008.” “The White House hopes the fee will soothe the public’s anger at financial firms,” The Wall Street Journals’ Deborah Solomon and Damian Paletta report. “Most big banks that received public funds have repaid the government, but the industry is seen by many as having survived thanks to taxpayer support, and is now enjoying a profit rebound as the economy struggles. This month, many large banks will resume paying big bonuses to employees.” On your Tuesday lineup — US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue delivers his annual State of American Business Address, at 9 am ET, with five policy initiatives for job creation. Per excerpts provided to The Note, Donohue plans to say: “At the outset of this New Year, there are some encouraging signs that the state of American business is improving. Yet while there has been some improvement, we must add another word when describing the state of American business today — and that word is ‘uncertainty.’ ” In New York — Harold Ford Jr. makes it official (sort of): “It’s true: I am strongly considering running for the United States Senate,” Ford writes in a New York Post op-ed. Plus: “I moved to New York more than three years ago, have been a New York resident for more than a year and am a registered voter in New York City. My wife and I both work in Manhattan, proudly call lower Manhattan home and plan to start and raise a family in New York. I am pro-choice — have always been since I entered politics almost 15 years ago. My cumulative grade with NARAL during 10 years in Congress was right at 80 percent. Any assertions to the contrary are false.” In Massachusetts — the final Senate debate is in the books: “Meeting for their final debate of the US Senate campaign, Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley tried to capitalize on voters’ fears last night, with Brown raising the specter of another terrorist attack and Coakley warning about a return to Bush-era economic policies,” Matt Viser and Andrea Estes write in The Boston Globe. And as soon as the debate was over — look who went negative first: “Who is Scott Brown really? A Republican in lockstep with Washington Republicans,” Coakley’s ad, paid for my the Massachusetts Democratic Party, warns. “In times like these, we can’t afford a Republican like Scott Brown.” Complete with dark images of former President Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney — and a cameo from Rush Limbaugh — the ad really runs against the Republican Party. Why there’s some worry … will a close second count for something? “The GOP admits to the uphill nature of the race in heavily Democratic Massachusetts but believes that state Sen. Scott Brown’s got a good shot at winning. More important, they note, a valiant, close loss counts as a win because it will be a sign of deep discontent with Democratic policies even in a blue-state citadel,” Politico’s Alex Isenstadt and Jonathan Martin report. The AP’s Glen Johnson and Liz Sidoti: “A once-pedestrian contest between Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown has coarsened with a week to go, as the two have cast themselves as custodians of the pivotal Senate vote to determine the [health care] bill’s fate.” Roiling the swamp, in Florida: “Among the many indignities Charlie Crist has faced over last several rocky months, this one hit home,” Adam C. Smith writes for the St. Petersburg Times. “Republican party activists in his own county of Pinellas, many of whom have been campaigning alongside Crist for years, on Monday overwhelmingly declared that they prefer Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate. The 106-54 ‘straw poll’ vote is officially meaningless, but a giant symbolic blow for Crist.” Sarah Palin, pundit — jumping in right away, with an appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor” Tuesday night: “Under the multiyear deal, Palin will appear on a variety of Fox News shows, including its business network. She also will host occasional episodes of a series that will spotlight the inspirational stories of people across the USA. No financial details of the agreement were released,” per USA Today. Less likely to play in 2012? Per ABC News: “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is taking what appears to be a step away from elected office in accepting a new role as a Fox News contributor.” The Kicker: “It’s wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news.” — Sarah Palin, going you-know-where. “I would say that I thought the comments not only were reprehensible, but it’s amazing to think to print a whole book that so many people saw and nobody noticed that this ill-chosen remark was in the book? Didn’t anybody read the book before they put it out? I find it kind of shocking.” — Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., maybe not entirely clear on what he was condemning.
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