(CNN) - Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele made clear Monday he's not happy with Democratic efforts to pass a health care reform bill, saying the measure which cleared a procedural hurdle Sunday amounts to "flipping a bird to the American people."
"This is a bad bill. It's bad law. It's bad for America. It is bad certainly for individuals and enough is enough. I am tired of the Congress thumbing their nose and flipping a bird to the American people," Steele said on a conference call with reporters Monday. "I am tired of this Congress thinking it knows better than me and my family how to provide for our health care now and in the future."
Steele was joined on the call by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the current head of FreedomWorks, in an apparent show of solidarity against the measure that narrowly passed a cloture vote in the early-morning hours Monday. Armey's group and the RNC have occasionally butted heads in the past year over the best way to tap into disapproval with Democratic policies, but Steele said Monday he is "honored" to work with "grassroots activists, tea partiers and others who are fighting the good fight."
FreedomWorks, which has provided much of the organizational heft behind the Tea Party movement, clashed with the RNC last fall when they endorsed an independent conservative in a New York congressional race over the GOP-backed candidate. As a result of the divided vote, the Democrat in the race won the conservative district for the first time in more than a century.
Letting bygones be bygones Monday, Steele called Armey "a man of principle, a man who has been able to reflect in a genuine way the voice of a lot of Americans out there."
"It's nice to know in this fight that you have individuals who are willing to stand up with you and lead the charge, individuals who you can follow into battle and who can follow you into battle and try and make sure we do what's best for the American people," said Steele.
UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Steele's comments "obscene" in a Capitol Hill press conference Monday afternoon.
"I'm more worried about an example being set by a party leader with something so obscene, I think that's something people should be worried about," Reid said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A group of children got a Christmas-week visit Monday from President Barack Obama, who handed out cookies and read them "The Polar Express."
The unannounced trip to the Richard England Clubhouse and Community Center, a Boys & Girls Club of Washington, was a break from health care reform, climate change and other issues that have dominated Obama's focus in recent weeks.
About two dozen youngsters ages 6 to 11 sat on the floor as Obama took off his suit coat and read the book aloud from a chair in front, pointing to the pictures and providing dramatic emphasis to some of the lines.
Afterward, sitting forward with his elbows on his knees, Obama exhorted the youngsters to study hard.
Washington (CNN) - Support for the health care reform bill that Democrats are pushing through the Senate has risen six points since early December, according to a new national poll, and although a majority of Americans still oppose its passage, only four in ten agree with Senate Republicans that the bill is too liberal.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, released Monday, also indicates that President Barack Obama's approval rating has experienced a similar six-point rise.
According to the poll, 42 percent of Americans, based on what they've read or heard about the bill, support Senate Democrat's legislation. That's up from 36 percent in a poll conducted December 2-3. Nonetheless, a majority of people questioned in the survey, 56 percent, oppose the bill.
(CNN) - He may have exited the national stage nearly one year ago, but former Vice President Dick Cheney has been named "Conservative of the Year" by the conservative Human Events magazine for his ardent and continuous criticisms of the Obama administration's national security policies.
"What Cheney is saying, primarily on foreign policy, defense and anti-terrorism, makes sense to more and more American citizens growing increasingly worried by the Obama Administration's insouciance when U.S. national interests are threatened, both at home and abroad," former U.N. ambassador John Bolton writes for the magazine.
"Since the only real, long-term way to deal with persuasive positions on substantive policy matters is to refute them with sounder policy arguments, it is not hard to understand why the Obama White House is near panic," Bolton also writes. "Where are they going to go to find a better policy inside his administration?"
In a series of interviews and speeches over the last year, Cheney declared President Obama had put the country's security at an elevated level of risk as a result of a string of national security decisions that largely went at odds with Bush administration practices.
Cheney's comments have met criticism from many Democrats and some members of the media who say he would be better off following the example set by former President George Bush, who has remained largely silent on the actions of his successor.
But in the Human Events article, Bolton said its necessary former leaders continue to defend their policies.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The American Medical Association, a traditional opponent of health care reform, on Monday endorsed the Senate health care bill nearing a final vote in the chamber.
Dr. Cecil Wilson, president-elect of the nation's largest advocacy group for doctors, said at a news conference that the amended bill would solve major problems with the health care system.
"The AMA is pleased to announce its support for passage of the amended ... bill," said Wilson, an internist from Winter Park, Florida. At the same time, Wilson said, the AMA will continue working for additional changes in a final health care bill that results from merging the Senate bill and a House version passed last month.
Wilson became president-elect of the AMA in June, and will serve in that role for a year before becoming president in June 2010.
The AMA has long opposed the kind of health care reform measures contained in the Senate and House bills. It announced this year that it supported health care reform efforts, but had concerns about specific issues such as a proposed expansion of Medicare coverage.
The expanded Medicare provision has been cut from the Senate bill.
Washington (CNN) - Taking action against air travel nightmares, the Department of Transportation ordered airlines on Monday to allow passengers stranded on airport tarmacs to deplane after three hours.
After a series of horror stories, including one in which passengers were stranded overnight on a plane in Rochester, Minnesota last summer, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that in the future, passengers will be allowed to disembark after three hours.
"Airline passengers have rights, and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly," LaHood said in a statement.
This rule will apply to domestic flights, with exceptions only for safety or security issues, or if air traffic control advises the pilot that returning to the terminal would disrupt operations. U.S. airlines operating international flights will have to specify their time limits for deplaning passengers in advance.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama on Monday called the Senate vote to end its debate and move toward passing a health care bill "a big victory for the American people."
In remarks at the White House, Obama rejected arguments by Republican opponents of the bill that it will increase the federal deficit.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the Senate bill will reduce the deficit by $132 billion in the first 10 years, Obama said.
"That argument that opponents are making against this bill does not hold water," Obama said.
The Senate will hold more procedural votes on the health care bill this week, with a final vote scheduled for Christmas Eve.
Washington (CNN) - A government plan to reduce contracting costs will save $19 billion in 2010, President Barack Obama announced Monday.
The savings come from terminating unnecessary contracts, strengthening acquisition management, ending the over-reliance on contractors and reducing the use of high-risk contracts across government, according to documents released with Obama's announcement.
Obama noted government spending on federal contracts more than doubled from 2002, totaling about $540 billion in 2008.
(CNN) - Arizona Sen. John McCain said the recent flap over Sarah Palin's decision to black out his name from a campaign visor while she was vacationing in Hawaii is much ado about nothing.
"Oh, it's fine. Sarah said she wanted to be a little bit incognito," McCain said when asked about the incident on "Fox News Sunday. "I don't blame her. I understand that."
The controversy arose after photos of a vacationing Palin showed the former Republican vice presidential candidate relaxing on a Hawaii beach wearing a McCain campaign visor on which she had clearly blacked out the Arizona senator's name with a marker.
The Web site TMZ declared the blacked-out visor amounted to a "frontal attack on Sen. John McCain," but Palin later said she was merely trying to "be incognito" in an effort to get a little rest and relaxation after her nearly month-long book tour.
"I adore John McCain, support him 100 percent and will do everything I can to support his reelection," Palin told the Web site Politico when questioned about the hat. "As everyone knows, I was honored and proud to run with him."
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," McCain said he is taking Palin at her word.
Can't you take her at her word? It's - Sarah and I and Todd, Cindy - we have a wonderful relationship. We're dear friends," he said. "She is a - going to be a force in the Republican Party for a longtime. And the hysterical attacks on her from the left continue to validate that. "
(CNN) - Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee blasted Sen. Ben Nelson in his own backyard over the Nebraska Democrat's decision Saturday to provide the key 60th vote to advance the party's health care reform bill.
In a fiery speech Sunday at an Omaha rally sponsored by Americans for Prosperity of Nebraska - a group opposed to Democratic efforts at health care reform - Huckabee said it is "historic and unprecedented that we are now bribing public officials openly - now we openly bribe them with $300 million at a time and tell them this is what your vote is worth."
The final Democratic holdout, Nelson agreed to back the measure following 13 hours of negotiations during which he won a commitment from the federal government to fund entirely his state's Medicaid population beyond the three years of funding granted to all states by the bill.
Republicans were quick to question Nelson's motivations for backing the bill, dubbing his alleged deal making the "cornhusker kickback," and claiming Nelson's provision has increased the burden on the 49 other states.
"That puts an added burden on all the other states, including mine," Sen. John McCain said "Fox News Sunday."
In an interview with CNN, Nelson said he did not seek any special favors but rather voted for the bill because of an added amendment allowing states to opt out of providing abortion coverage - a provision conservatives say falls far short of the blanket prohibition Nelson originally sought.