AFP photo/ Karen Bleier AFP photo/ Karen Bleier

Yesterday, GOP Rep. Buck McKeon, a longtime member of Congress and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, announced his retirement. The move could pave the way for an interesting experiment, one that could provide a glimpse into how progressive policies play in a swing district that’s already very difficult for Democrats.

The Democrat vying for the seat in California’s 25th District is Dr. Lee Rogers, who not only aggressively embraces Obamacare, but wants to expand it to achieve “universal” coverage, and even wants to expand Social Security. In an indication of what this candidacy might look like, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which supports Rogers, notes that he champions “Medicare access for all,” and in a PCCC email going out today, Rogers says:

“I’ll fight to allow people to buy into Medicare. I’ll push for Medicare to negotiate drug prices to lower costs. And I promise to help bring us closer to universal healthcare coverage.”

Despite these progressive positions, Rogers is viewed as a credible candidate by some respected non-partisan Beltway analysts. The Rothenberg Political Report puts it this way:

Three Democrats are running, including podiatrist Lee Rogers, who lost to McKeon, 55 percent to 45 percent, in 2012. After that credible run, Democratic strategists had been giving Rogers a longer look. But now other candidates may choose to get into the race now that it is officially open.

Even though the initial Republican field looks to be at least a tier better than the Democratic side, there are a couple of factors that could make this a takeover opportunity. At the presidential level, the district is competitive. Mitt Romney carried it, 50 percent to 48 percent, in 2012, and Barack Obama carried it, 51 percent to 47 percent, four years earlier.

Make no mistake, this one will be a steep climb for Dems. Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report doesn’t think Rogers has a shot, because a big chunk of the district is made up of Latino voters among whom turnout could drop off in a midterm election. “This district has unique voting patterns that more or less doom his candidacy from the start,” Wasserman says.

However, it could still be an interesting test of progressive messaging at a time when public worries about inequality and declining economic mobility seem to be rising. “If he gets more than the 45 percent that he got in 2012, maybe that’s a sign his message was effective,” Wasserman says.

Whatever his chances, the race is worth watching, partly for the simple reason that Rogers’ support for expanding Social Security is a relative rarity among Dem candidates. The issue is emerging as an increasingly important issue for progressives, one central in the debate over whether the Democratic Party should embrace a truly economically progressive platform. It’ll be interesting to see how expanding Social Security (and Obamacare) play politically, given that many Dems have shied away from such positions — even as there is strong public support for protecting social insurance and the safety net.

* OBAMA TO END NSA COLLECTION OF META-DATA: Reuters has what looks like an accurate description of what Obama will outline in his NSA reform speech today. The crux: the NSA will no longer hold bulk meta-data, and that the judicial process governing access to it will be strengthened, but that the fate of the meta-data remains up in the air:

In a nod to privacy advocates, Obama will say he has decided that the government should not hold the bulk telephone metadata, a decision that could frustrate some intelligence officials. In addition, he will order that effectively immediately, “we will take steps to modify the program so that a judicial finding is required before we query the database,” said the senior official, who revealed details of the speech on condition of anonymity.

While a presidential advisory panel had recommended that the bulk data be controlled by a third party such as the telephone companies, Obama will not offer a specific proposal for who should store the data in the future.

Obama will ask Congress to weigh in on how the metadata will be stored in the future. Civil libertarians, however, may continue to press for no continued storage of the meta-data at all.

* MITCH McCONNELL’S OPPONENT RATCHETS UP CAMPAIGN: Dem challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes rolled out a new jobs plan last night that will be central to the case against Senator Mitch McConnell:

Grimes’ plan addressed a wide range of issues, calling for more affordable child care; improved education in science, math and computers; more support for entrepreneurs and workforce training; expanded early-childhood education; and improved high-speed Internet access in rural areas. Grimes also advocated raising the minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 to $10.10…Grimes smacked McConnell at several turns, saying he has routinely voted against job training, a higher minimum wage, pay equity for women, and other programs to help Kentuckians.

Red state Dems will campign aggressively on pocket-book issues — the minimum wage, equal pay, unemployment benefits. If Dems get their way, this will be the context for the battle over Obamacare, particularly in Kentucky, where Grimes is standing behind the general idea of expanding coverage in a state where health reform is badly needed and the rollout has been a success.

* IRAN SANCTIONS BILL DESIGNED TO SCUTTLE NEGOTIATIONS? The New York Times’ Mark Landler has a good overview of the debate over the Iran sanctions bill, explaining its apparent goal as clearly as you could want:

[W]here the legislation may have an effect, and why it so worries the White House, is that it lays down the contours of an acceptable final nuclear deal. Since administration officials insist that many of those conditions are unrealistic, it basically sets Mr. Obama up for failure.

You don’t say! Or, as a former Bush administration official puts it in the article: “it might give Iran an excuse to leave the table…he idea that the Senate would intervene in the middle of a negotiation to alter the outcome of the negotiation is just not sensible.”

* ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS HAMMER OBAMA: A coalition of 18 environmental groups is slamming Obama for not getting serious about confronting the fossil fuel industry and transitioning to clean energy.  They are angry about his an “all of the above” strategy that embraces domestic production of oil, coal, and natural gas:

“We believe that continued reliance on an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution and would undermine our nation’s capacity to respond to the threat of climate disruption. With record-high atmospheric carbon concentrations and the rising threat of extreme heat, drought, wildfires and super storms, America’s energy policies must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, not simply reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

At the same time, though, the hiring of John Podesta also seems to signal that he will move to aggressively address climate issues via executive action.

* DEMS EXPECT HOUSE REPUBLICANS TO EMBRACE LEGALIZATION: The Hill reports that Democratic aides expect House Republican leaders to at least try to embrace legalization when they roll out their immigration reform principles. This, from one Dem aide, is what I think could happen: “The path will likely be a legalization bill that offers a path to citizenship through existing channels.”

If Republicans are also willing to take steps to clear some of the obstacles through those existing channels, that really could provide a way to a compromise. It’s a very big “if,” however.

* AND HOUSE GOP MAY SKIP NEXT BUDGET: National Journal reports that House Republicans are worried about passing a budget in an election year:

The previous Republican budgets passed by Ryan’s committee and adopted by the House have been so ideologically charged, they explained, that some Republicans think it’s time — especially in an election year — to avoid any polarizing votes that would hand ammunition to the Democrats. But such a passive approach won’t fly with conservatives in the GOP conference. As with health care reform, privacy legislation, and tax reform, the hard-liners in the party are urging House leadership to adopt their “bold” ideas — not just on paper, but on the House floor.

Wait — so the public isn’t clamoring for the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint to be enacted? That’s good to know.

What else?