Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd won’t seek reelection, will retire at end of term

Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd won’t seek reelection, will retire at end of term

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2010; A01

Embattled Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday at which he is expected to announce he will not seek reelection, sources familiar with his plans said Tuesday night.

Word of Dodd’s retirement plans comes after months of speculation about his political future, his faltering poll numbers and a growing sense among the Democratic establishment that he could not win a sixth term in the Senate. The news also came on the same day Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) announced he would not seek reelection.

Once among the safest of incumbents, Dodd’s political star fell over a two-year period, during which he moved his family to Iowa to pursue the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and was linked to a VIP mortgage loan program overseen by a controversial Wall Street financier. He also drew harsh questions about his oversight of Wall Street, as chair of the Senate Banking Committee, in the years when the nation’s financial system was heading toward near collapse.

Dodd’s poll numbers plummeted last spring before rebounding somewhat over the summer. But another dive in the polls late last year led to widespread concern that Dodd needed to vacate the seat for Democrats to have a chance at retaining it in the 2010 elections.

Dodd’s troubles were politically ironic, coming at a time when his power on Capitol Hill had reached a height that most legislators only dream of. In addition to the banking committee, he also held pivotal posts on the health and foreign relations committees.

Over the past 18 months, he has been the primary author or co-author of legislation rewriting housing mortgage rules; the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street; key portions of the $787 billion stimulus package; a consumer protection bill overseeing the credit card industry; and the nearly $900 billion health-care legislation that has passed the Senate and is in final negotiations with the House now.

With each major piece of legislation Dodd ushered into law, the senator also endured criticism that he did not anticipate. The mortgage bill came in mid-2008, which some said was delayed because of Dodd’s presidential aspirations, and the financial bailout became one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation passed in recent memory. His work on the stimulus bill, approved last February, was an attempt to rein in executive compensation at firms that had been bailed out but instead led to sharp criticism when executives at AIG, the largest recipient of taxpayer dollars, still received seven-figure bonuses shortly thereafter.

Without Dodd on the ballot, Republicans’ chances of taking over a seat in solid-blue Connecticut are considerably diminished.

Richard Blumenthal (D), who has served as state attorney general since 1990, is widely expected to declare his candidacy for the seat. The most popular politician in the state, Blumenthal has long coveted a Senate seat, and he had already signaled that he would run for the Democratic nomination against Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I) in 2012.

Former Rep. Rob Simmons and businesswoman Linda McMahon are battling for the Republican nomination, but either would start as an underdog in a general-election match-up with Blumenthal.

Dodd, 65, was elected to the Senate in 1980, after three terms in the House, following the path blazed by his father, Thomas. By the early 1990s, Chris Dodd had set his sights on Senate leadership.

He ran for Democratic leader in the wake of the 1994 elections, but he lost in a close race to Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.). President Bill Clinton selected Dodd to chair the Democratic National Committee, overseeing Clinton’s reelection as president in 1996, but the DNC’s fundraising practices during the 1996 campaign landed him in some political hot water.

After Daschle was voted out of office in 2004, Dodd considered jumping into the race to succeed him, but he quickly stepped aside when he realized Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) had overwhelming support to claim the post.

Instead, Dodd began laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign in 2008. Always a long shot in a field filled with better-known and better-financed candidates, he moved his family to Iowa in fall 2007 in hopes of generating some excitement for his bid. But the move backfired in Connecticut, where voters bristled.

The next year, it was reported that Dodd had received special treatment in his acquisition of a mortgage loan from Countrywide Financial, through a program that labeled him and others as friends of Countrywide chief executive Angelo Mozilo. Dodd insisted he was unaware of his inclusion in the program, and he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Senate Ethics Committee, but the political damage was done.

Staff writers Paul Kane and Dan Balz contributed to this report.

“Our Incompetent Civilization”

“Our Incompetent Civilization”

January 5th, 2010 Posted By Erik Wong.


The Wall Street Journal:

When does a civilization become incompetent? I’ve been mulling the question in a number of contexts over the last year, including our inability to put a stop to Somali piracy, detain a terrorist who can neither be charged nor released, think rationally about climate change, or rebuild Ground Zero in an acceptable time frame.

But the question came to me again in Brussels on Sunday as I watched my children—ages six, four, and four months—get patted down before boarding our U.S.-bound flight. The larger-than-allowed bottle of cough syrup in my carry-on, however, somehow escaped our screener’s humorless attentions.

Yes, the screener in this case was Belgian, not American. Yes, terrorists come in any number of skin colors, and they aren’t above strapping explosives to their own children. And yes, the Obama administration took a half-step toward sanity by ordering additional screening of passengers from 14 countries, including Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, home of Flight 253 would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

But here’s a predictive certainty: Not one non-Muslim from any of these countries (or others such as Egypt or Jordan, which were oddly excluded from the list) will ever become a suicide bomber. The localized case of Sri Lanka’s Tamils aside, suicide bombing is a purely Islamic phenomenon. Note that during the whole of the intifada there was not a single case of a Palestinian Christian blowing himself up, making a nonsense of the view that Israel’s checkpoints and curfews and security fences were the main cause of the terror.

So as Homeland Security, TSA and the rest of the government’s counterterrorism apparatus struggle to upgrade travel security in a way that doesn’t involve freeze-drying passengers in their seats, it’s worth noting that we have finally reached the outer bounds of a politically correct approach to airport security. To wit, the U.S. government is now going to profile Muslim passengers, albeit partially, indirectly and via the euphemism of nationality instead of religion. Insofar as actual security is concerned, it would be both more honest and effective if it dropped the remaining pretense.

The obvious rub is that profiling goes against the American grain. We shudder at the memory of previous instances of it, particularly the internment of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s. Rightly so.

But a civilization becomes incompetent not only when it fails to learn the lessons of its past, but also when it becomes crippled by them. Modern Germany, to pick an example, has learned from its Nazi past to eschew chauvinism and militarism. So far, so good. But today’s Multikulti Germany, with its negative birth rate, bloated welfare state and pacifist and ecological obsessions is a dismal rejoinder to its own history. It is conceivable that within a century Germans may actually loathe themselves out of existence.

In the U.S., our civilizational incompetence takes various forms. For instance: No country in the world collects more extensive statistical data about its own population than the U.S. And no country is as conflicted about the uses to which that data may or may not be put than the U.S. So what exactly is the point of all this measuring, collating and parsing?

Our deeper incompetence stems from an inability to recognize the proper limits to our own virtues; to forget, as Aristotle cautioned, that even good things “bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage.”

Thus we reject profiling on the commendable grounds that human beings ought not to be treated as statistical probabilities. But at some point, the failure to profile puts innocent lives recklessly at risk. We also abhor waterboarding for the eminently decent reason that it borders on torture. But there are worse things than waterboarding—like allowing another 9/11 to unfold because we recoil at the means necessary to prevent it. Similarly, there are worse things than Guantanamo—like releasing terrorists to Yemen so they can murder and maim again (and so we can hope to take them out for good in a “clean” Predator missile strike).

Put simply, we do not acquit ourselves morally by trying to abstain from a choice of evils. We just allow the nearest evil to make the choice for us.

And so it goes. We can be proud of how deeply we mourn the losses of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. But a nation that mourns too deeply ultimately becomes incapable of conducting a war of any description, whether for honor, interest or survival. We rightly care about the environment. But our neurotic obsession with carbon betrays an inability to distinguish between pollution and the stuff of life itself. We are a country of standards and laws. Yet we are moving perilously in the direction of abolishing notions of discretion and judgment.

One of life’s paradoxes is that we are as often undone by our virtues as by our vices. And so it is with civilizations, ours not least.

Dorgan says he will not seek re-election in 2010 North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan says he will not seek re-election to the Senate in 2010, a surprise

Dorgan says he will not seek re-election in 2010

By KEN THOMAS, Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 5, 6:32 pm ET

WASHINGTON – North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan says he will not seek re-election to the Senate in 2010, a surprise announcement that could give Republicans an opportunity to pick up a seat from the Republican-leaning state.

Dorgan, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992 after serving a dozen years in the U.S. House, said he reached the decision after discussing his future with family over the holidays.

The moderate Democrat said he has other interests he wants to pursue.

Republican Gov. John Hoeven has been mulling a possible challenge to Dorgan and the veteran lawmaker’s retirement could clear the path for the popular governor. Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy could be interested in seeking the seat.

Legal Jihad to Silence Christian Action Network?

Legal Jihad to Silence Christian Action Network? – by Ryan Mauro

Posted By Ryan Mauro On January 6, 2010 @ 12:07 am In FrontPage | 9 Comments


A group called the Muslims of the Americas is threatening to sue the Christian Action Network [1] (CAN) for a YouTube video [2] where an MOA member is confronted at the Muslim Day Parade in Washington, D.C. in September by several citizens concerned about the group’s extremism and paramilitary training of its members. (Full disclosure: I work as a national security researcher for CAN.) Unfortunately for MOA, the tape in question was made by members of the American Congress for Truth [3], not the Christian Action Network. The MOA is reacting to CAN’s pressure by trying to silence the organization and label them as anti-Muslim hate-mongers that are part of an evil Zionist plot.

The legal notice [4] denounces the ACT members’ characterization of MOA’s isolated communities as “compounds” and “training camps” as being “false and defamatory” but does not deny that paramilitary training takes place at these sites. In December, CAN published a YouTube video [5] showing excerpts of two tapes provided to me as the national security researcher for the organization by a confidential law enforcement source where MOA’s female recruits are seen receiving guerilla warfare training at their headquarters in New York called “Islamberg.”

They are seen practicing the scaling of fabricated walls, combat involving knives and swords including throat slitting, moving with stealth, marching in military formation and fatigue, and simulating ambushes culminating in firing guns into a lake. The second tape explains the meaning behind this training. Two leaders from MOA are shown declaring the United States a Muslim country and warning that they “will not stand idly by and let our country be destroyed” and they will defend it from both foreign and domestic enemies targeting Muslims.

Islamberg responded [6] to this latest tape with a bizarre video of their own on their YouTube channel accusing CAN of “media terrorism” by using a “digitally-created Muslim hate video.”

The legal notice also tries to discredit an earlier tape uncovered by CAN showing MOA’s Pakistan-based leader, Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, giving his recruits firearms training and instruction on detonating explosives, killing guards, hijacking vehicles, and other aspects of the jihadi trade. On the tape, Gilani is seen telling his viewers that if they are interested in his “advanced training courses in Islamic military warfare,” they can contact his International Quranic Open University offices in Pakistan, the U.S. or Canada.

The MOA lawyer that wrote the notice claims that the offer to train Muslims was “computer generated” and says that everyone on this tape are part of the Kashmir Liberation Front and none are Americans. This latest video showing training at Islamberg, which was released after the legal notice was published, easily rebuts any denial that training is being offered to Americans.

On November 27, eight days after the threat to sue CAN was written, the MOA website published a rant [7] by Sheikh Gilani that only served to further expose his extremism. He describes CAN as a “Zionist front group” that are “mere pawns of a larger, futile plot to destroy Christian-Muslim unity.” He compares CAN’s campaign against MOA to his perceived Israeli manipulation of the U.S. government to get it to invade Iraq and make it “a virtual slave of the Zionist World Order.”

He also claims that Israel was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and that “evil, inhumane masterminds” carried out the 9/11 attacks and blamed it on Osama Bin Laden and other Saudi “activists” to facilitate the invasion of Afghanistan. He continues, saying “they sent Daniel Pearl to target me.” Gilani has previously claimed that Pearl was part of an assassination plot against him and that he is still alive. Pearl was on his way to interview Gilani when he was kidnapped and beheaded, and although Gilani was detained and released and not charged with involvement, these statements establish a motive for wanting Pearl dead.

His anti-Semitic extremism really shines through when he discusses Jews. “…I have never seen, in the whole of my life or even in the past thousand years, a Jew who will tell the truth,” he says. In one of his poems, Gilani also described [8] Jews as “an example of human Satans.”

Gilani claims that he will be succeeded by the Mahdi, the messianic figure of Islam, who he claims to have met and even introduced to some of his disciples. “He is in his thirties and will appear to all at the age of forty,” Gilani writes, adding that the Mahdi will declare himself during the hajj in Mecca and that Jesus will arrive at the Dome of the Rock to unite Muslims and Christians after his appearance. He also says that he knows and has met Jesus in the first heaven. He finishes with saying that Muslims are not afraid of death and love martyrdom more than the Zionists “love their gold, jewelry, women and wine.”

The members of MOA believe Sheikh Gilani speaks on behalf of Allah and follow his every word. He says he is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. On the propaganda tape received by CAN, one of the MOA speakers says that they follow Sheikh Gilani as Catholics follow the Pope. With thousands of followers in the U.S. ready to act on Gilani’s single command, we cannot give into the threat of a legal jihad to silence us from warning about this threat.

And another one bites the dust: Democrat Ritter drops out of Colorado guv bid

And another one bites the dust: Democrat Ritter drops out of Colorado guv bid

By Michelle Malkin  •  January 5, 2010 09:58 PM

They’re dropping like flies.

Or rats jumping ship.

Pick your creature.

First, Democrat Sen. Byron Dorgan announces his retirement tonight.

Now, Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado is bowing out of his re-election bid. Via the Denver Post (h/t Kim Priestap):

Gov. Bill Ritter is planning an 11 a.m. press conference Wednesday at which he is expected to announce that he will withdraw from the race for governor, numerous sources close to Ritter confirmed tonight.

The governor’s office made calls to the Colorado Senate president and Speaker of the House to ask about their availability to attend the press conference.

At the same time, Washington, D.C. blogs were reporting that Ritter would drop out of the race for governor.

Repeated calls for comment to Ritter’s staff and communications director were not returned tonight. The governor was said to be making calls to other Democrats, informing them of the decision.

Polls have shown that Ritter is trailing Republican and former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis in the race.

Methinks the Villafuerte taint played a role.


Colorado blogger Ross Kaminsky weighs in on the post-Ritter picture for GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis and the anticipated Dem field:

So, my handicapping of a race between Scott McInnis and the Democrats are as follows:

1) John Hickenlooper beats McInnis by 5%.
2) McInnis beats Ed Perlmutter by 8%
3) McInnis beats Ken Salazar by 4%
4) McInnis beats Andrew Romanoff by 7%

And if the rumor is false and Ritter does run for re-election, I think McInnis wins by 8%.

So, as I said earlier, if I were the GOP, I’d hope that John Hickenlooper finds, yet again, a reason not to run for governor.

Finally, as for Bill Ritter, don’t forget that he was one of the earliest big-name supporters of Barack Obama in Colorado. It would not surprise me if we see him get offered a position, whether a real job or something more ceremonial, by the Obama Administration, especially if it becomes clear that his withdrawal was orchestrated knowing that Hickenlooper would run to succeed him.

CBS4Denver adds:

Ritter did not return phone calls seeking reaction. Sources said Ritter called a news conference on Wednesday to announce his decision. A spokesman for Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said she and Pat Waak, the state Democratic Party chairmwoman, would call a meeting of senior elected officials from Colorado on Wednesday to discuss how to go forward as a party.

Reaction from Republicans was swift.

“What a dramatic turn of events. He was a very weak incumbent and he wanted to get out on his own terms,” said Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams.

The Obamas: Conspicuous Sacrifice vs. Conspicuous Consumption

The Obamas: Conspicuous Sacrifice vs. Conspicuous Consumption

By John Dietrich

A recurring theme of the Obama White House is “sacrifice.” The president has repeatedly stressed the need for us to tighten our belts. He has informed us, “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times …” During the campaign, his wife told us that we have to compromise and sacrifice for one another in order to get things done. Shortly after the election, the president said that “[e]verybody’s going to have to give. Everybody’s going to have to have some skin in the game.” 
This emphasis on “sacrifice” is presented as a simple matter of justice. We are told that we live in a nation that comprises a small fraction of the earth’s population, yet we consume a disproportionate share of the world’s resources.
The Obamas do not expect us to sacrifice alone. They believe that they have established a long pattern of self-sacrifice. According to Michelle Obama, one of the Obamas’ first major decisions after graduating from college was, “Do I go to Wall Street and make money, or do I work for the people?” As we all know Barack, decided to “work for the people.” During the campaign, Michelle informed six women in the playroom of the Zanesville Ohio Day Nursery, “We left corporate America.” She advised these working-class women to do the same: “Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers.” According to Michelle, these are “the careers we need.” She discouraged them from going into “corporate law or hedge-fund management.” She warned these women, however, that their salaries would respond negatively if they made that choice. 
After attaining the White House, the Obamas have continued to sacrifice, with a notable example being their trip to Denmark in order to secure the 2016 Olympics for Chicago. Michelle explained, “As much of a sacrifice as people say this is for me or Oprah or the president to come for these few days, so many of you in this room have been working for years to bring this bid home.” The Obamas appear to be bearing up, however. They are tough. As Michelle told her Zanesville audience, “So I tell people, ‘Don’t cry for me.'” In spite of their apparently sincere belief that they are sacrificing “for the people,” Michelle’s behavior occasionally seems to belie this idea. This is most obvious in her thirst for fashion.
Michelle attended a luncheon for the homeless wearing a pair of $540 Lanvin sneakers. On a trip to Russia, she was seen sporting what was thought to be a $5,950 VBH alligator manila clutch. The White House protested that she was actually carrying the $875 VBH patent leather clutch. This is perhaps another example of self-sacrifice. She has ordered a pair of thigh-high leather boots from Robert Clergerie, a famous French designer. Had Governor Sarah Palin made any of these purchases, she would have been criticized on the front pages of the major newspapers. Their treatment of Michelle Obama is considerably kinder. She is seen as a fashion icon.
For a couple with a preference for $100-a-pound Wagyu beef, it is inconsistent to claim that “we can’t eat as much as we want.” Apparently the president’s admonition that we can’t “keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times” does not apply to him. If his senior adviser David Axelrod is to be believed, the president prefers a warm environment. Axelrod is reported by the New York Times as describing the temperature in the Oval Office as rather temperate: “He’s from Hawaii,” Axelrod said. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.” The president’s years in Chicago apparently were not sufficient to acclimatize him to the cold.
The Obamas have every right to dress as they please. The have every right to spend their money as they choose. However, they cannot spend lavishly while contending that they are sacrificing for “the people.” The majority of “the people” know about sacrifice. A Zogby poll reported that 70 percent of households are forgoing movies and restaurants. Are the Obamas? Perhaps the pièce de résistance was a statement by Michelle after a party for the “first dog,” Bo: “We had a really sweet celebration — [Bo] got a doghouse cake made out of veal stuff and he had his brother Cappy come over and we had party hats.” Poor Bo. I am certain that he would have preferred Wagyu steak.
John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy (Algora Publishing).

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NCTC Was Slated For Deep Budget Cuts

NCTC Was Slated For Deep Budget Cuts

January 5th, 2010

by Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic

 Obama was planning deep cuts for the National Counterterrorism Center

The highly touted intelligence fusion center at the heart of the nation’s counterterrorism establishment was preparing for deep budget cuts across 2010, senior intelligence officials said. According to one official, who asked not to be identified because intelligence budget matters are classified, the administration and Congress slashed the budget for the National Counterterrorism Center by at least $25 million. Those affected, the official said, included employees responsible for maintaining the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) system, which contains the list of about 550,000 known or suspected terrorists.

TIDE contains highly classified information provided by the entire intelligence community. Each day, what the NCTC calls an “unclassified extract” is forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Screening Center, which in turn sends it to the Transportation Security Agency, the State Department’s Visa and Passport Database, the Customs and Border Patrol’s entry database, and the National Crime and Information Center (NCIC.)

Both the Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, and the head of the NCTC, Mike Leiter, pressed to have the funding restored well before the Christmas Day attack exposed potential problems.

“Without question, recent events will cause those proposals to be re-considered,” an intelligence official said.

Read More:

Pelosi swipes at Obama’s promises

Pelosi swipes at Obama’s promises
By: Patrick O’Connor and Glenn Thrush
January 5, 2010 07:04 PM EST
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, piqued with White House pressure to accept the Senate health reform bill, threw a rare rhetorical elbow at President Barack Obama Tuesday, questioning his commitment to his 2008 campaign promises.

A leadership aide said it was no accident.

Pelosi emerged from a meeting with her leadership team and committee chairs in the Capitol to face an aggressive throng of reporters who immediately hit her with C-SPAN’s request that she permit closed-door final talks on the bill to be televised.

A reporter reminded the San Francisco Democrat that in 2008, then-candidate Obama opined that all such negotiations be open to C-SPAN cameras.

“There are a number of things he was for on the campaign trail,” quipped Pelosi, who has no intention of making the deliberations public. 

People familiar with Pelosi’s thinking wasted little time in explaining precisely what she meant by a “number of things” – saying it reflected weeks of simmering tension on health care between two Democratic power players who have functioned largely in lock-step during Obama’s first year in office.

Senior House Democratic leadership aides say Pelosi was pointedly referring to Obama’s ’08 pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class, which she interprets to include a tax on so-called “Cadillac” health care plans that offer lavish benefit packages to many union members.

The House aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Pelosi has been miffed with Obama’s tilt toward the Senate plan and his expectation the House will simply go along with the Senate bill out of political necessity.

A Pelosi aide later downplayed the remark, saying, “It was a quip, not a jab at anyone.”

“She’s setting up for the conference,” said a leadership staffer. “It’s strategic. She’s staking out her territory.”

It wasn’t the first time she’s done so.

Pelosi has repeatedly expressed her frustrations about the inclusion of the Cadillac tax in the Senate bill and has sparred with Obama about the issue during face-to-face meetings. Her hope now, House aides say, is to get the administration to accept a tax that starts on family plans worth $28,000 — $7,000 more than threshold favored by Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The White House has shown a clear preference for the Senate product in the months-long, bifurcated health care debate. And Reid holds the two best trump cards in the form of Sens. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, two wavering moderates who have already threatened to vote against a final compromise if it deviates significantly from legislation the Senate passed late last year.

That means the speaker needs to play her cards wisely – even if it means directing some well-timed fire at the president.

All year, liberal Democrats have been clamoring for Obama to get more involved in the health care negotiations, hoping he would weigh in to push their top priority – the public option. The president is now promising to take a much more active role in these final negotiations – his staff will convene a meeting with House and Senate aides as early as Wednesday to start laying the groundwork for the talks. But that might not be a good thing for the speaker or her liberal colleagues because of the White House preference for the Senate bill.

During a White House meeting Tuesday, Obama told the speaker and other congressional leaders that he would like to see them approve a final bill by his State of the Union address, set for late January or early February. Earlier in the day, House Democrats weren’t convinced they could meet that deadline – and seemed ambivalent about whether they even wanted to try.


Emerging from a Tuesday afternoon huddle with her leadership team and a quartet of critical chairmen, Pelosi seemed to concede the public option won’t be the final bill, telling a clutch of reporters that “there are other ways” to increase competition and “hold the insurance companies accountable.”

And she has clearly set her sights on making sure the final bill provides sufficient subsidies for lower- and middle-income Americans.

“We want our final product – as I’m sure everyone in the House and Senate would agree – to insure affordability for the middle class,” Pelosi told reporters after her leadership meeting.

The House bill sets aside more than $600 billion in affordability credits for people who make less than 400 percent of poverty – or roughly $43,320 for an individual and $88,200 for a family of four. The Senate offers those same people tax credits that cost $436 billion over the new programs first six years. The House also sets much lower caps on out-of-pocket expenses for people at the lowest end of this income spectrum.

Democrats in the House are intent on forcing their counterparts in the Senate to shift money from other programs to make mandatory insurance coverage more affordable.

“The key issue for us is to make sure people have affordable health insurance,” said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a member of the Ways and Means Committee who also heads the Democrats’ campaign arm in the House.

Reid struggled for months to corral all 60 members of his caucus to move a health care bill through the Senate. That gave individual senators, like Lieberman and Nelson, the influence to command major concessions from the rest of their colleagues. Their demands, particularly Lieberman’s insistence on scrapping the public option, rankled Democrats in the House.

At one point during the Tuesday afternoon press conference, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) quipped: “The Senate should know that we need 218 votes.”

But the fact is that House Democrats have little recourse to impose their will in negotiations with the Senate unless they make realistic demands.

Party leaders were even forced to break from the traditional means for negotiating with the Senate because it would create additional roadblocks for Reid – and give Republicans more chances to derail the bill.

On Tuesday, the speaker and her colleagues were both forced to defend charges from their own rank-and-file that these abbreviated negotiations betrayed their own campaign promises to make deliberations public.

“There has never been a more open process,” a testy Pelosi told reporters in response to repeated questions about a request by C-SPAN chief Brian Lamb to allow cameras in the House-Senate negotiations.

As the negotiations begin, House and Senate Democrats have plenty of differences to resolve, but both bills seek to achieve the same fundamental goals: expand health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and impose new restrictions on the insurance industry that bar companies from discriminating against people who are ill.

Beyond that, differences abound.

The two chambers use different methods to pay for the final bill, and House Democrats seem willing to accept the Senate proposal to tax high-end health care plans as long as they can raise the threshold for plans that qualify.

But they would have to find a way to pay for the lost revenue. One idea being circulated is to raise the amount of money wealthy Americans would be forced to pay for Medicare. The Senate bill already uses the tax to raise that money, and it touches on the House plan to impose a surtax on people with the highest annual salaries.

Meredith Shiner and Carrie Budoff Brown contributed to this story.