Bradford Plumer

Salesmanship is, of course, a crucial part of politics. And most Democrats would concede that, over the past two years, they've done a miserable job of touting health care reform. "None of us did a good enough job," Steny Hoyer told reporters yesterday. In the run-up to the midterms, Republicans ran wild talking about the Affordable Care Act in apocalyptic terms, while many Democrats—especially vulnerable members—just tried to avoid the topic altogether. It didn't work. But that's changed in the past week.

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For the last two years, the Senate has been the major barricade between the country and various bits of progressive legislation. Over and over again, the House would pass a bill—climate legislation, anyone?—and liberal groups would get excited, only to watch the thing get scuttled by filibusters in the Senate.

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There are plenty of conservatives who can't wait for a knockdown brawl over the federal debt ceiling this spring. As South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint put it, "We need to have a showdown, at this point, that we're not going to increase our debt ceiling anymore." Likewise, three GOP presidential hopefuls (Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Pence) told The Wall Street Journal today that they opposed any lifting of the debt ceiling by Congress unless it was accompanied by strict spending cuts.

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Is Help On the Way?

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the massacre in Arizona, but by now it’s quite clear that the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was mentally disturbed. In college, he was prone to surreal rants that unnerved classmates and teachers. While working at an animal shelter, he didn’t see why sick dogs needed to be kept away from healthy ones. Loughner’s friends were even aware of his weird obsession with Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

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Karat Top

In the summer of 1932, Louis McFadden, a former bank president turned Pennsylvania Congressman, stood up on the House floor to reveal a sinister plot. Over the course of a 25-minute speech, he explained how the Federal Reserve—“one of the most corrupt institutions the world has ever known”—was being steered by a cabal of European bankers who had, among other sins, paid for Leon Trotsky’s return ticket to Russia and funded the October Revolution. But McFadden’s pleas to dismantle the Fed and embrace gold (in his view, “the only real money”) were greeted with ridicule.

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Michael Steele was already doomed when he walked on stage for the Republican National Committee chair debate this afternoon. Earlier today, Politico had reported that a majority of the RNC's 168 members weren't going to vote to keep him around as party chair. There's still the possibility he could scoop up votes as various candidates drop out and support jostles around, but at this point, the odds look bleak. And so, the hordes of reporters covering today's debate weren't there to witness a Steele comeback.

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Last week, shortly before Christmas, the EPA posted a quick item on its website announcing a timetable for new climate regulations on power plants and petroleum refineries. This, in turn, provoked all sorts of outrage and confusion. Industry lobbyists blasted the move. James Inhofe predicted Armageddon and pledged to do whatever it took to thwart the agency. And some commenters framed this as a fresh power grab by the Obama administration. What was harder to find, though, was an explanation of what the EPA was actually doing. So let's roll tape.

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Crime Conundrum

In December 2008, just a few months after the U.S. financial system imploded, New York City was hit by a flurry of bank robberies. On the Monday before New Year’s, four banks were attacked in an hour-and-a-half; one daytime raid took place just steps from the Lincoln Center in downtown Manhattan. The week before, San Diego had seen four bank holdups in a single day. Criminologists wondered if the holiday spree was the first sign of a looming crime wave in recession-battered America.

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There’s a reason politicians are always loath to cut government budgets: It typically means hacking away at programs people like, and painful cuts lead to scary headlines. In Arizona, the state legislature recently cut off organ transplants for Medicaid patients, and the press responded with tales about sick patients who could die as a result. Not pretty. That’s why, when House Republicans pledged this week to cut federal spending by some $88 billion when the budget comes up for renewal in March, they shied away from specifics.

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There have been all sorts of drastic proclamations about the tax deal Obama struck with congressional Republicans earlier this week. Here's another to chuck on the pile: The agreement might end up killing what little momentum the U.S. clean-energy industry has picked up over the past two years. Some background. Back in 2008, Congress extended (yet again) tax credits for solar and wind producers, which now cover 30 percent of upfront costs. But when the recession made it tougher for firms to get financing, the credits were no longer working as advertised.

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