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Obama to survey New Orleans recovery, and health care reform negotiations begin. Plus: Wexler's surprise resignation ignites Florida House race.

White House: Obama To Visit New Orleans

• "President Barack Obama, who accused former President George W. Bush of leading a government 'that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns,' is hearing directly from New Orleans residents who have struggled to rebuild their city since the 2005 hurricane season," AP reports. "Obama arrives in New Orleans" today "on his first presidential trip to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast."

• Obama on "Wednesday got behind efforts to provide seniors with a $250 cash boost next year, in time for today's announcement from the Social Security Administration that there won't be a 2010 cost-of-living adjustment," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The one-time payment would cover the costs of a 2 percent benefit increase for nearly 50 million Social Security recipients."


• "President Obama, convening his fifth war council meeting in as many weeks, pressed his senior national security advisers Wednesday on the political situation in Afghanistan and the effort to train the country's security forces, officials said," the Washington Post reports. "Allegations of fraud in the Afghan presidential election over the summer have raised questions about the legitimacy of Hamid Karzai's government, complicating U.S. efforts to partner with him. Meanwhile, the country's security forces are seen as ill-equipped to confront an insurgency that is gaining strength."

Health Care: Negotiations Begin Between Senate Leadership, Administration

• "The three Democratic senators charged with finding a final healthcare bill met with senior advisers from the White House on Wednesday as leaders expressed unity on an issue that has divided the party," The Hill reports. "The group will have to meld a centrist, deficit-reducing healthcare bill that leaves liberals cold with a left-leaning measure that causes anxiety among more conservative Democrats."

• "Days after the insurance lobby began an aggressive campaign against a Senate plan to overhaul the nation's health-care system, senior Democrats fired back, threatening Wednesday to revoke the industry's long-standing antitrust exemption," the Washington Post reports.


• "Mitch McConnell and his deputies in the Senate Republican leadership are responding very cautiously to" Maine Republican "Olympia Snowe's decision to become the first GOP vote for a Democratic health care reform bill," Politico reports. "'My job as whip is not to twist her arm but to bring all the information that we can bring to bear on the issue and hope that people vote the way we would like to see them vote,' said McConnell's No. 2, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)."

• "If Democratic leadership hoped" Snowe's "decision to cross party lines Tuesday would inspire her fellow middle-of-the-roaders, they were mistaken," Politico reports. "And the moderates' reluctance to commit showed just how far health reform still has to go."

• "In a surprise move, physicians will get a Senate vote as early as next week on a Medicare payment fix that helps them avoid massive cuts as House Democratic leaders work to set up that chamber's own separate vote on a payment solution," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The Senate move will appease physicians who have leaned on senators to use the overhaul to permanently fix a payment structure that leaves physicians facing annual cuts in Medicare reimbursement, including a 21 percent reduction looming next year."

Congress: Broad Expansion Of First-Time Homebuyer Credit Considered

• "Congress is considering proposals to greatly expand a soon-to-expire $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers -- potentially applying it to all but the wealthiest homebuyers," CNNMoney reports. "Supporters say doing so would further boost home sales, stabilize housing prices and generate jobs. Opponents say extending and expanding the credit would be a waste of money and only temporarily stave off further price declines."


Politics: Wexler's Resignation Sets Off Unexpected Race

• "Rep. Robert Wexler's (D) unexpected announcement that he will leave office in early January has created a scramble among party officials interested in filling his shoes in his staunchly Democratic Southeastern Florida district," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "But Wexler may help clear up that situation if he throws his support behind state Sen. Ted Deutch (D) in the upcoming special election, as some Florida Democratic operatives say they expect he will do sometime in the next week."

• "Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) plans" today "to demand a vote to subpoena the records of Countrywide Financial's controversial Friends of Angelo mortgage program, a request that threatens to complicate Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd's reelection bid," Politico reports. "Dodd, who was cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee in August of any wrongdoing in a complaint alleging he received a special mortgage deal from Countrywide, has seen his poll ratings improve considerably in recent months."

• "If there's any incumbent who might be sunk by the 'D' next to his name, it's Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.)," The Hill reports. "Even Republicans admit the popular new congressman has stayed on track through his first year and a half in a tough GOP-leaning district, so the party is counting on nationalizing the race as its key to victory in 2010."

World: Militants Kill At Least 36 In Strikes Against Pakistanis

• "Militants launched a string of bold strikes against Pakistani law enforcement" today, "leaving at least 36 police officers and civilians dead, authorities said," CNN reports. "At least 11 militants also died in the fighting, while others were missing."

• "Israel has come under pressure from its allies to investigate UN allegations of possible war crimes by its army during its Gaza offensive last winter," BBC News reports. "A report by a UN mission led by Richard Goldstone accused both Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes. The UN Human Rights Council is set to discuss the report again later today."

• "Backers of the coup against Manuel Zelaya made progress Wednesday in negotiations with representatives of the ousted Honduran president, but the key point, Zelaya's reinstatement, remained unresolved," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Victor Meza, negotiating on Zelaya's behalf, said delegations representing the two factions had agreed on wording regarding that sticking point. But later, the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti, who replaced Zelaya, said no agreement had been reached."

Economy: Committee Expected To Pass Derivatives Market Bill

• "Lawmakers took a major step toward overhauling the nation's financial system Wednesday as a House panel prepared to pass legislation," The Hill reports. "The House Financial Services Committee is slated to vote" this morning "on a measure reining in the multitrillion-dollar market for complicated financial derivatives that many blame for exacerbating the crisis last year."

• "The public will get its first granular look" today "at how the $787 billion stimulus package is being spent -- but the information may leave armchair auditors dissatisfied, and the data on job-creation data will be less than definitive," the Washington Post reports. Today, "the government's Web site is slated to post the reports for all federal contracts awarded so far, and at month's end, it will post reports for all grants and loans awarded."

• "Wall Street may be cheering the rally in the U.S. stock market, but many individual investors watched the Dow Jones industrial average soar past the 10,000 mark Wednesday on the sidelines," the Washington Post reports.

Energy & Environment: Climate Bill Won't Hurt Jobs On Balance, CBO Says

• "Climate legislation designed to slash greenhouse gas emissions will have little effect on overall employment but could hit particular industries hard, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) director told a Senate panel Wednesday," The Hill reports. "Douglas Elmendorf, CBO director, said the development of new technologies and the growth of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels will largely offset jobs losses elsewhere."

• "As world leaders struggle to hash out a new global climate deal by December, they face a hurdle perhaps more formidable than getting big polluters like the United States and China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: how to pay for the new accord," the New York Times reports. "The price tag for a new climate agreement will be a staggering $100 billion a year by 2020, many economists estimate; some put the cost at closer to $1 trillion."

Lobbying: Coal Group Spent $10 Million With Firm That Sent Fraudulent Letters

• "A prominent coal industry association spent nearly $10 million over the past 18 months on lobbying efforts supervised by a public affairs firm currently under congressional investigation for its involvement in sending forged letters opposing the climate bill," Politico reports.

• "Kicking off the latest chapter of this year's Full Employment Act for K Street Lobbyists, representatives from a surfeit of industries descended on an influential Congressional committee on Wednesday as it began writing a law overhauling the nation's regulatory system," the New York Times reports.

• "As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce rolled out its multimillion-dollar Campaign for Free Enterprise on Wednesday with all the pomp and circumstance of a political campaign rally, the business group was still dogged by questions surrounding its position on climate change legislation," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Chamber President Tom Donohue defended his group's position and said companies are being pressured by environmental activists to withdraw from the chamber."

Transportation: Pilots To Blame For 2007 Plane Crash, NTSB Says

• "A fatal 2007 plane crash might have been averted if federal inspectors had noticed that the charter airline allowed a convicted drug runner to conduct critical safety checks, accident investigators ruled Wednesday," USA Today reports. "The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) blamed the June 4, 2007, crash into Lake Michigan on the two pilots. They suffered an emergency shortly after takeoff from Milwaukee that made their jet difficult to control, but they should have been able to return for a safe landing, the NTSB said."

Technology: GOP May Block Proposed Net Neutrality Rules

• Senate Commerce ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, "will try to block the FCC from adopting new Internet regulations if agency Chairman Julius Genachowski doesn't modify or abandon a proposal dealing with 'network neutrality' that is scheduled for a vote next week," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The showdown is occurring amid a rising chorus of protests from Republicans that is expected to include House legislation requiring the commission to produce concrete evidence justifying any additional regulations designed to preserve the Internet's openness."

The Hill reports on "cloud computing," storing information on remote servers instead of on one's own. "It definitely holds promise. Federal technologists, including Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra in the White House, hope it will save money for agencies and be a more efficient way for employees to share information and work remotely."

Commentary: Cost Condemnation

Karl Rove and Michael Barone tear into the health care bill's cost estimates in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, while the New York Times demands answers on the insurance industry's claims that the legislation would drive up premiums by thousands of dollars.

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