Politics Today: Obama Faces Tough Choices on War

Politics Today is CBSNews.com's inside look at the key stories driving the day in politics, written by CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

** The president meets with world leaders…

** A general's report presses for more troops…

** N.Y. Gov. Paterson feels the heat from the White House…

(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Before finishing his two-day TV blitz on David Letterman tonight, and before his travels to the U.N. meetings in New York City and the G-20 summit later this week in Pittsburgh, President Obama heads to Troy, N.Y. today to discuss innovation and the economy.

He'll visit "Hudson Valley Community College where he will tour a technology classroom, visit a lab and deliver remarks on his commitment to fostering new jobs, new businesses, and new industries by laying the groundwork and the ground rules to best tap our innovative potential," an administration official tells CBS News. "His remarks will outline the Administration's strategy for innovation: investing in education, infrastructure and research; spurring productive entrepreneurship and sustaining competitive markets and achieving breakthroughs for national priorities including health care and energy."

During his speech, which is scheduled for 11:50am ET, "Obama plans to decry a U.S. economy that relies on explosive growth in some areas that mask long-term weaknesses. Instead, he plans to say, the economy has to be a consistent string of new ideas that refresh the market at a constant pace. The president — fond of criticizing 'a bubble-and-burst' cycle — also plans to describe a future built by skilled workers and sound investments," adds the Associated Press' Philip Elliott.

"He will point to more than $100 billion in economic stimulus dollars that Congress approved earlier this year to look for breakthroughs in areas as diverse as health, energy and information technology and to his spending priorities, which included the largest increase in basic research in history. Although deeply unpopular among conservatives, administration officials insist the spending pulled the economy back from the brink and avoided a potential economic depression."

Meantime, "The president will ... attend his first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly and then to a summit of the Group of 20 largest economic powers in Pittsburgh on Thursday and Friday," the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman reports.

"In both venues, expectations will be high for concrete action to counter Iran's nuclear program, reinvigorate Middle East peace talks, and shore up support for the war in Afghanistan. Leaders also will be looking for action to counter global warming, revive free trade and strengthen financial regulation.

"Unlike at April's G-20 summit in London and July's G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, Mr. Obama can't expect his celebrity status to carry him above the fray."

"President Obama will meet in New York on Tuesday with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, will also be in New York," reports the New York Times' Ethan Bronner. "On Monday, Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, will meet in Washington with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other officials.

"The White House said it did not expect to achieve any breakthroughs, but senior administration officials said Mr. Obama decided to go ahead with a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to show his determination to get the process moving again."

Washington Post's Mary Beth Sheridan and Philip P. Pan, "Obama Missile Decision May Smooth U.S.-Russia Arms Talks"

(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
AFGHANISTAN: The Washington Post's Bob Woodward reports: "The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict 'will likely result in failure,' according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

"Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: 'Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.'

"His assessment was sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30 and is now being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team.

"McChrystal concludes the document's five-page Commander's Summary on a note of muted optimism: 'While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.'"

Meantime, on Sunday, the president "voiced skepticism that more troops would make a difference in Afghanistan, suggesting he might not rubber-stamp military officials' expected request to send more forces to that country," reports the Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Williamson and Henry J. Pulizzi. "'I don't want to put the resource question before the strategy question,' Mr. Obama told CNN's 'State of the Union.'

"'There is a natural inclination to say, 'If I get more, then I can do more.' But right now, the question is—the first question is—are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?'

"Mr. Obama's comments suggested that the White House could be reassessing its strategy in Afghanistan, ahead of an expected request for more troops from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander there. Mr. Obama, who has approved more troops for Afghanistan while ordering a drawdown in Iraq, has already agreed to send an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. forces there to 68,000 by year's end."

Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung, "Changes Have Obama Rethinking War Strategy"

(White House photo)
HEALTH CARE: "Acknowledging that he hasn't persuaded the American public and Congress to support sweeping changes to healthcare, President Obama offered a humbling admission Sunday: His message is sometimes not 'breaking through,'" writes the Los Angeles Times' Mark Silva.

"'I think there have been times where I have said, 'I've got to step up my game in terms of talking to the American people about issues like healthcare,' ' he said during an unprecedented spree of appearances on five Sunday television news shows.

"Asked if he had lost control of the healthcare debate at those times, the president said: 'Well, not so much lost control, but where I've said to myself, somehow I'm not breaking through.'"

The president told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer that, in detailing his health care proposals, he is attempting to warn Americans that the federal budget cannot sustain the current system and 'a lot of Americans are going to be much worse off over time.'

Schieffer asked if the president could still keep his campaign promise that there would be no additional tax on people making less than $250,000 a year, no payroll tax and no capital gains.

"'I can still keep that promise," Mr. Obama said, "because … about two thirds of what we've proposed would be from money that's already in the health care system and just being spent badly."

"This is not me making wild assertions," he continued.

Washington Post's Ceci Connolly and Michael D. Shear, "In Broadcast Blitz, Obama Calls for 'Civil' Tone on Health Care"

New York Times' Alessandra Stanley, "For President, Five Programs, One Message"

New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn, "Shepherding a Bill With 564 Amendments": "Senator Max Baucus hails from a long line of ranchers — his great-grandfather is in the Cowboy Hall of Fame — and this week the Montana Democrat will need all his herding skills. After months of closed-door negotiations with a handful of senators on the Finance Committee, which Mr. Baucus leads, the full panel now gets to put its imprint on what could be landmark legislation to overhaul the health system.

"Senators have offered 564 amendments, all posted on the committee Web site, and the Republican proposals generally reveal seemingly irreconcilable differences. While they would gut the bill, one Republican, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, wants important changes but appears ready to get behind it, provided Mr. Baucus can keep his fellow Democrats in line.

"For Mr. Baucus, the challenge will be to stop his fellow Democrats — they outnumber Republicans 13 to 10 — from shifting the bill so hard to the left that they chase away Ms. Snowe, who could provide the crucial 60th vote needed to get the measure through the Senate."

The Times' John Harwood interviewed Sen. Snowe, "The President's Best Hope in the G.O.P.": "[I]n an interview, she offered a surprisingly robust endorsement of Mr. Obama's skepticism about expanding government too much, his willingness to accommodate different views and his assertion that Washington must act now after decades of failure.

"Those views directly contradict the assertions of Republican leaders, who accuse Mr. Obama of pursuing a radical expansion of government, spurning dialogue and unduly rushing to enact his agenda. Ms. Snowe's analysis of the discrepancy: she has maintained traditional Republican principles over 30 years in Washington, while her party has moved past them to the right."

Bloomberg News' Laura Litvan, "Senators Plan Effort to Amend Baucus Plan on Public Option, Tax"

Wall Street Journal's Janet Adamy and Greg Hitt, "Tax on 'Cadillac' Plans Draws Flak": "Labor unions and some Democrats are pushing to scale back a proposal in the latest version of Senate health-overhaul legislation that would tax generous insurance plans.

"A sweeping proposal to fix the health system, unveiled [last] week by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.), would impose a 35% tax on high-dollar health plans offered by insurers. The tax on insurers is the biggest revenue generator for a plan that is expected to cost about $774 billion over 10 years.

"The new tax is intended to target 'Cadillac' plans offered to wealthy individuals. It would fall on plans valued at $8,000 or more for individuals, and at $21,000 or more for families. Unions say that would hit the plans of many of their members, who tend to have generous benefits. And while the tax is aimed at insurers, which oppose the levy, some large insurers have already said they plan to pass the cost on to consumers."

The New York Times' Reed Abelson has more on the tax proposal, "A Proposed Tax on the Cadillac Health Insurance Plans May Also Hit the Chevys": "As it turns out, though, many smaller fish would get caught in Mr. Baucus's tax net. The supposedly Cadillac insurance policies include ones that cover many of the nation's firefighters and coal miners, older employees at small businesses — a whole gamut that runs from union shops to Main Street entrepreneurs."

Associated Press' Alan Fram, "Spin Meter: $2 trillion in health savings? Where?": "It was a watershed moment in the health care struggle: Leaders of the insurance, hospital and other medical industries stood with President Barack Obama at the White House and promised steps to save $2 trillion over the next decade. Whatever happened to those savings, announced with much fanfare well before Congress had written any of the costly health overhaul bills now in play? Industry groups say they're a work in progress. Many health analysts say they're largely speculative."

(AP Photo/Tim Roske, File)
GOV. DAVID PATERSON, D-N.Y.: "Gov. David A. Paterson insisted on Sunday that he would continue his campaign for governor, despite urgings from the White House that he step aside for the good of the Democratic Party," report the New York Times' Danny Hakim and Nicholas Confessore.

"At a parade in Harlem, the governor refused to discuss his conversations with President Obama's political team, which has made clear to Mr. Paterson in recent days that it has lost confidence in him and does not believe he can be elected next fall.

"Asked how he would run as a Democrat without White House support, Mr. Paterson said, 'I am running for governor right now. I have no idea — I am a candidate for governor.'...

"Still, even as Mr. Paterson publicly vowed to continue, two prominent Democrats who had spoken to him over the weekend described him as mulling his options and open to the possibility of withdrawing. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversations were intended to be confidential."

The Times' Raymond Hernandez and Jeff Zeleny's original article from Sunday's newspaper, "Obama Asks Paterson to Quit New York Governor's Race"

"In recent days, Patrick Gaspard, President Barack Obama's political-affairs director, met with the governor and expressed concern about Mr. Paterson's trailing poll numbers, according to a White House spokesman and a senior Democratic strategist in New York," add the Wall Street Journal's Susan Sataline and Elizabeth Williamson. "'The message was, 'Hey, we're watching your race, we've seen the numbers, we're worried,' said the strategist.

"The strategist said Mr. Gaspard stopped short of asking Mr. Paterson not to run again. 'The message was not 'get out of the race.' Mr. Gaspard couldn't be reached for comment, but a White House spokesman confirmed that 'no one has asked the governor not to run.'

"The spokesman said the president isn't involved in conversations with Mr. Paterson about the governor's race. 'The president has many other things on his plate.'"

"Adding to the weirdness of it all, the news of Obama's message leaked just as he is poised to spend three days in New York, including an upstate swing where he will be greeted at Albany International Airport by none other than David Paterson," writes the New York Daily News' Elizabeth Benjamin.

"A source involved with the administration's deliberations over how to handle Paterson admitted the way this played out was not ideal, but insisted the short-term mess is worth the long-term gain.

"'We needed to send a message to Rudy Giuliani that if he decides to jump in [to the governor's race], it won't be against this dysfunctional candidate,' the source said. 'Let's be clear: We don't need a prominent Republican hectoring us from a blue state.'"

"The notion that the nation's first black president would be responsible for destroying the candidacy of New York's first black governor left some of the state's normally voluble Democratic officials speechless -- but not surprised," adds the New York Post's Frederick U. Dicker.

"Obama knows that Paterson is the most unpopular governor in the United States, and -- given the problems that are racking so many states -- that's saying a lot.

"And Obama, concerned with his own declining poll numbers, knows Paterson is so inept that virtually every Democratic elected official is holding his/her breath fearing the governor will cost the party key elective offices next year -- as well as the crucial control (from a redistricting point of view) of the state Senate.

"But most importantly, Obama realizes that the only thing that could stand between his own re-election in 2012 and a direct challenge from former mayor and potential Republican gubernatorial and presidential contender Rudy Giuliani -- the man who defeated New York City's first black mayor -- is Attorney General [Andrew] Cuomo, the state's most popular politician and one who unfailingly beats Giuliani in the polls."

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
2009 VA GOV: Washington Post's Anita Kumar and Jon Cohen, "Poll Finds Deeds Gaining on McDonnell": "Dramatic shifts among independent female voters and Northern Virginians over the past month have propelled Democrat R. Creigh Deeds to within four points of Republican Robert F. McDonnell in the race for Virginia governor, according to a new Washington Post poll.

"The change among likely voters -- down from a 15-point margin in mid-August -- coincides with the publication and ensuing controversy surrounding McDonnell's graduate school thesis, in which he writes of his opposition to working women, feminists and gay people.

"In the new poll, McDonnell edges Deeds by 51 to 47 percent among voters who say they are certain to vote in November, with the poll offering both candidates reasons to be optimistic as people begin to make up their minds six weeks before Election Day."

2009 NJ GOV: Newark Star-Ledger, "Corzine helps dedicate Essex County Veteran's Memorial Park; Christie participates in NFIB roundtable"

Associated Press, "N.J. gubernatorial candidates Corzine, Christie tout endorsements"

SUCCEEDING TED KENNEDY: Boston Herald's Hillary Chabot, " The Senate is expected to pass a bill allowing Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint an interim U.S. senator by mid-week despite delay tactics by Senate Republicans. They can use Senate rules to lay the legislation on the table or spend hours debating the single amendment to the bill. Patrick is expected to move quickly to fill the post once he's handed the power, and potential appointments include former Gov. Michael Dukakis and former Democratic National Committee chairman Paul Kirk."

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  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBSNews.com's Executive Editor, Washington.

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