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Wednesday: Obama Pitches Health Care; Settlement ‘Undermines’ Peace Talks

President Barack Obama takes his push for health care reform back on the road Wednesday, as he looks to rally lawmakers to act on legislation before he leaves for an overseas trip March 18.

The president’s address at a suburban St. Louis high school is expected to focus on cracking down on waste and fraud in both Medicare and Medicaid. The speech will be his second on health care in three days, and as Mark Knoller of CBS notes, it is also the president’s 52nd speech on the subject — out of 463 speeches/remarks made since taking office.

Despite the president’s ramped up push for reform, the Hotline’s latest tally shows Democrats are still shy of the votes they need to pass any sort of overhaul.

With House Democrats in an “everyman for himself mood,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to secure the votes for health care reform have become less “a matter of herding kittens and more a matter of nailing the Jello to the wall,” Politico’s Tim Grieve told the Rundown on Tuesday.

The Heritage Foundation’s Conn Carroll says the administration’s stepped up push “clearly exposes the yawing gap between the Obama administration’s health care rhetoric and cold hard legislative reality.”

Health Beat’s Maggie Mahar says a bill will get done. “Unless the president and Pelosi have signed a secret political suicide pact, they wouldn’t be doing this unless they were quite sure they could pull it off,” she writes.

Meantime, Real Clear Politics asks, would the GOP be better served if health care passes or fails?

Biden: New Israeli Settlement ‘Undermines’ Peace Talks

Vice President Joe Biden met with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah on Wednesday to try to jumpstart Middle East peace talks, but an Israeli plan to build 1,600 homes in east Jerusalem threatens to derail the efforts.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Israel’s expansion plans, announced Tuesday, were “damaging, for sure” to negotiations. Echoing that sentiment, Vice President Biden condemned the construction as “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.”

‪Gates Says Some U.S. Troops Could Leave Early

On a stop in Afghanistan on Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates raised the possibility that some U.S. forces there may be able to leave before President Obama’s scheduled withdrawal slated for July 2011. But, he stressed, “It would have to be conditions-based.” ‬

‪As Gates spoke, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was also in Kabul visiting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Iranian president accused the United States of playing a “double game” in Afghanistan, and said America had “created terrorists and now say they are fighting them.”

Bank of America to End Overdrafts

Bank of America, the nation’s largest bank, announced Tuesday that beginning this summer it would stop charging overdraft fees on purchases made with debit cards.

The decision could force other banks to do the same, as the industry prepares for a new federal rule requiring account holders to approve overdraft protection.

Meantime, banks appear to be paying customers to sign up for the often lucrative service, points out James Kwak over at Baseline Scenario.

(For the record, Bank of America is an underwriter of the PBS NewsHour.)

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