Morning Must Reads -- Health care lingers 

New York Times -- Obama Urges Excise Tax on High-Cost Insurance

Like a holiday guest who just won’t leave, health care is still hanging around Washington.

The president is trying to get control of the terrorism discussion, his party’s electoral outlook grows more stormy by the day, and his health plan has lost the support of even nominal Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger after a welter of sweetheart deals and secret negotiations. (“We’ll put it on C-SPAN” may end up being one of Obama’s most damaging broken campaign promises.)

Heck, the budget director who was the primary architect of the plan is defending his move to propose to another woman after fathering a child with his former girlfriend.

Obama wanted to be at this point on health care six months ago so he could pivot to other things in an election year. But, the final step of merging the House and Senate bills still awaits, and the president must now take more direct ownership of the process.

Writer David Hersezhorn reports that in his meeting with congressional Democrats, the president called for a tax on premium health benefits, a move detested by labor unions and the more liberal House.

Just a reminder – Barack Obama now supports the basic health plan proposed by Hillary Clinton with the same funding mechanism proposed by John McCain even though some of his campaign’s toughest attacks were over a health-insurance mandate and a health-benefits tax.

“The Senate proposal would impose a 40 percent excise tax on the cost of individual insurance policies above $8,500 and on family policies above $23,000, with higher thresholds for retirees and employees in high-risk fields like police officers.

The tax would raise $149 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate bill would cost $871 billion over 10 years, while the House bill would cost nearly $1.1 trillion.”


USA Today -- National security adviser: Airline bomber report to 'shock'

National Security Adviser James Jones tells writer Susan Page that the report on the failures of intelligence and action that led to the underwear bomber’s chance to attack will be a doozy.

If it can beat turning away the pleading father of the terrorist on three beseeching visits to the U.S. embassy asking for help in stopping his son, it really must be something.

Jones, who has been keeping a low profile of late, has a surprising description of where the president is on terrorism:

“‘That's two strikes,’ Obama's top White House aide on defense and foreign policy issues said, referring to the foiled bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner and the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in November. In that case, too, officials failed to act when red flags were raised about an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan. He has been charged with killing 13 people.

Jones said Obama ‘certainly doesn't want that third strike, and neither does anybody else.’”


Los Angeles Times -- More former Guantanamo detainees returning to militant activity, Pentagon says

The military doesn’t seem to particularly like the president’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, especially the part about releasing a bunch of the inmates.

So the military bean counters helpfully provide a running tally of how many of the enemy combatants have returned to their old ways or even learned some new tricks.

Writers Julian Barnes and Christi Parsons explain that more than 20 percent of former residents are known to have gotten back into the game.

“The Pentagon report on the released detainees remains classified and officials refused to discuss it publicly. But Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell acknowledged the numbers had risen since April, when the department said about 74 former detainees -- about 14% of those released -- had returned to hostile action against the United States.”


Washington Post -- Republicans put new hold on TSA nominee Erroll Southers


Sen. Tom Coburn has joined Sen. Jim DeMint in blocking the nomination of a new head for the TSA over fears that he would allow collective bargaining for the agency’s 60,000 security workers.

But in the process, nominee Eroll Southers and the White House have had to explain and reexplain his using FBI computers to snoop on a romantic rival while he was an agent in 1988 – and why he didn’t tell the Senate about it in explaining his censure for inappropriate conduct.

Writer Robert O’Harrow explains:

“A spokesman for Coburn said that he ‘will object to Mr. Southers's nomination moving forward until he provides the committee with a more complete and accurate description of the circumstances surrounding his censure.’ He said Coburn thinks that ‘Mr. Southers' failures are significant because they pertain directly to his potential role as the head of TSA.’”


New York Times -- Suicide Bombing Puts a Rare Face on C.I.A.’s Work

Writers Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mar Mazzetti provide an arresting look at how the Jordanian doctor (jailed for illegally helping Gazans) who was turned into a double agent after being sent to spy on al Qaeda killed so many high-value American targets at once.

Predator drones are have been raining hellfire down targets in Pakistan and the CIA is claiming a huge body count in retaliation for the suicide bombing that killed 7 CIA employees.

“Their deaths were a significant blow to the agency, crippling a team responsible for collecting information about militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting missions to kill the networks’ top leaders. And in one sign of how the once male-dominated bastion of the C.I.A. has changed in recent years, the suicide bombing revealed that a woman had been in charge of the base that was attacked, Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province.”


--My column today on the Dodd and Conrad retirements is here.

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About The Author

Chris Stirewalt


Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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