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Pawlenty on offense as Obama readies for health rally

PLUS: health problems for Norm Coleman and Garrison Keillor, and census financial details.

This is a tricky time for Republicans. There’s no longer any doubt that the health care system is somewhere between floundering, circling the drain, and just plain broken, and so even hard-line right-wingers are conceding the need for change. The trouble is, if Barack Obama is the fellow behind that change, the Republicans will have stood by while a Democrat takes credit for a necessary and epochal social transformation. And, if you’re Tim Pawlenty and you’re thinking about running against Obama in the election, that puts you in an especially tight place, especially when Obama is coming to Minneapolis to pitch his health care plan directly to your constituency.

It’s especially tricky when Minnesota Democrats are making the case that you haven’t done very much to improve health care in Minnesota, and they are, according to Tom Scheck of Minnesota Public Radio. So what do you do? Well, first of all, you have a “pre-rebuttal” two days before the president arrives, critiquing his plan. Rachel E. Stassen-Berger of the Star Tribune offers some details of Pawlenty’s press conference, rather generously saying that Pawlenty was looking to “share a bit of the health-care spotlight” when “steal” might have been a more apt word choice.

Aside from an entirely expected criticism that health care needs to be “consumer-centric,” rather than “government-centric”, Pawlenty released a list titled “Welcome to Minnesota, President Obama”; the list consists of “Ten things to know about health care in Minnesota,” which FOX9 reprints. At the top of the list: “We can’t afford what we already have,” neglecting to mention that his line-item vetoes slashed spending on health care; it can be hard to afford what you refuse to fund, and it can be hard to fund things when you refuse to raise taxes.

But Pawlenty seems certain that what the market broke, the market can fix, and so his suggestions tend to be the sort that you can expect from him: Engage the private sector, enact tort reform, and, of course, “use market principals to hold down costs.” And if Obama isn’t prepared to do this, well, Pawlenty might not do what Obama wants, invoking states’ rights to prevent Minnesota from participating in Obama’s plan if Congress passes it.

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MPR’s Tom Scheck quotes Pawlenty as saying “”Depending on what the federal government comes out with here, asserting the 10th Amendment may be a viable option.” Since he’s the guy who just went ahead and vetoed whatever he didn’t like in the last budget, it can be hard to tell whether Pawlenty is just blowing hot air or not, but it would be interesting to see how Minnesotans would react if Pawlenty, whose plan has no mechanism for covering the currently uninsured and has slashed health care to the poor in Minnesota, goes ahead and tries to block whatever plan is passed by Congress.

But how many uninsured could there be in Minnesota? About 450,000, according to an estimate released Thursday from the U.S. Census Bureau, as reported by the Associated Press. Since Minnesota has a population of about 5 million, that means that roughly 8.7 percent of the state’s residents are uninsured. And that’s pretty good from a national standpoint, as the story points out: In Texas and New Mexico, about a quarter of the residents have no insurance at all.

The census also tells us that Minnesotans had a rough go of it in 2008, as the Pioneer Press’s Jeremy Olson explains: “Household median income in the state dropped from $59,900 in the two-year period ending in 2006 to $57,600 in the two-year period ending in 2008”; meanwhile, the state’s poverty rate “increased from 8.1 percent to 9.6 percent during those same periods.”

The Star Tribune reminds us that with Obama in town on Saturday, which coincides with games at the new Gopher Stadium and the Metrodome, it’s going to be a heck of a busy traffic day. Jim Foti, the author, interviews a traffic engineer, and she offers this sage advice: “Come early, stay late.”

In other health news, forer KARE11 anchor Rick Kupchella’s new web news site, Bring Me the News broke a story about Norm Coleman: He has been diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, which Web MD defines as “a paralysis or weakness of the muscles on one side of your face” caused by damage to the facial nerve that controls muscles on one side of the face.” “”It’s a big surprise when half your face is working — and the other half isn’t,” Coleman tells Bring Me the News. How did Kupchella manage this scoop? David Brauer has an idea: “Kupchella’s wife Leslie once worked as Norm’s press secretary.” S4xton on Twitter suggests exactly the same, asking “How easy is that when your wife is Coleman’s former aide?” He almost immediately gets a response from Tom Elko, who says “As News Dir of BringMeTheNews and a former UpTaker, I’ll answer that: Not very easy at all.” Veteran Minnesota journalist Nick Coleman tosses off an inevitable, but irresistible, joke: “If all politician’s had Bell’s Palsy, would they lie out of only one side of their mouths?”

Garrison Keillor has also had something of a health crisis. As CNN reports, the humorist checked himself into a hospital Monday and will be released today. Turns out he suffered a minor stroke. Star Tribune commenters lob their own jokes, but theirs are somewhat more resistible. Sample: “As the story states, he is ‘up and moving around, speaking sensibly’. Sensibly? Are they sure they have the right patient?” Hey-o!

In sports, the Vikings have cut wide receiver Bobby Wade, replacing him with Greg Lewis; also, it might be a big week for bowling, as the Lebowski Fest is in town. This festival, celebrating the Coen Brothers’ cult film “The Big Lebowski,” is going to involve a lot of 10-pin and a lot of White Russians.