Politics Today: White House Closes in On Afghanistan Strategy

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:

** Choosing a strategy in Afghanistan...

** Reid guns for a health care bill on the Senate floor next week...

** Dodd unveils ambitious financial regulation proposals...

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
PRESIDENT OBAMA TODAY: This morning, the president and Mrs. Obama host a Veterans Day breakfast in the East Room before traveling to Arlington National Cemetery where Mr. Obama will participate in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Following the ceremony, he will deliver remarks.

This afternoon, the president meets with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan and, report the New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller and David E. Sanger, the president will consider four "final options" regarding how many more troops to send to Afghanistan.

"Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are coalescing around a proposal to send 30,000 or more additional American troops to Afghanistan, but President Obama remains unsatisfied with answers he has gotten about how vigorously the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan would help execute a new strategy, administration officials said Tuesday.

"Mr. Obama is to consider four final options in a meeting with his national security team on Wednesday, his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters. The options outline different troop levels, other officials said, but they also assume different goals — including how much of Afghanistan the troops would seek to control — and different time frames and expectations for the training of Afghan security forces…

"Officials said that although the president had no doubt about what large numbers of United States troops could achieve on their own in Afghanistan, he repeatedly asked questions during recent meetings on Afghanistan about whether a sizable American force might undercut the urgency of the preparations of the Afghan forces who are learning to stand up on their own."

The Los Angeles Times' Christi Parsons and Julian E. Barnes add, "The troop increases now under consideration would not constitute what the administration considers a full-scale counterinsurgency program. The plans on the table would not represent a significant increase of U.S. troops before next year.

"'None of the options is a full counterinsurgency strategy, which would entail hundreds of thousands of troops,' said one senior administration official, who also requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussion. 'So anything being considered has elements of both counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism.'

"The eighth meeting of the war council comes as Obama, who traveled to Texas for memorial services for the victims of the shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, prepares to leave on a weeklong trip to Asia.

"'Anybody that tells you that the president has made a decision,' said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 'doesn't have, in all honesty, the slightest idea what they're talking about. The president has yet to make a decision.'"

(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
HEALTH CARE: The New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn reports, "The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said Tuesday that he expected to bring major health care legislation to the floor next week and to complete work on the bill before Christmas. But other Democratic leaders said it was unlikely that a bill could reach President Obama's desk by year's end.

"The House approved its version of the health care legislation late Saturday by a vote of 220 to 215. In a first procedural step toward Senate debate, Mr. Reid on Tuesday night moved to put the House bill on the Senator calendar, from which he could call it up any time after Tuesday.

"Mr. Reid still has not finalized the Senate version of the legislation. He is waiting for additional analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, with an eye toward keeping the 10-year cost of the bill at the roughly $900 billion suggested by Mr. Obama. Some lawmakers and White House officials have voiced increasing frustration with the delay. ...

"Asked at a news conference if he would get the bill on the floor next week and completed by the holiday recess, Mr. Reid offered a terse reply: 'Yes and yes.'"

The Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid and Janet Adamy add, "Some Democrats remain skeptical about the legislation. 'Failure could be passing a bad bill,' said Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. ... Democrats need 60 votes -- every Democrat and the Senate's two independents -- simply to begin debate. And it isn't clear they have those votes yet.

"Mr. Nelson says he won't support starting debate on a bill that doesn't contain strong language restricting federal funding of abortion. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who caucuses with the Democrats, says he won't support a package that includes a government-administered health plan to compete with private insurers.

"Democratic leaders want their members to refrain from making non-negotiable demands, fearing that will undercut the bill before it even comes to the floor. If the Senate begins considering the bill, Democratic leaders hope the ensuing amendments and horse-trading will produce legislation that eases many senators' concerns."

Politico's Alex Isenstadt, "Health vote pits Democrat vs. Democrat": " Democrats who thought a vote against the sweeping health care package would inoculate them from political attack are facing serious blowback from angry constituents and interest groups on the left—fierce opposition that could prove as consequential as anything Republicans could have thrown at them. For some of 39 House Democrats who opposed the bill, there are protests outside their offices and promises of retribution. For others, there are attempts to shut off their campaign money spigot. Still more are about to get drilled in a television ad campaign paid for by Democratic donors."

In the race to succeed late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., one House Democrat is now explaining why he voted for the health care bill. " US Representative Michael E. Capuano, in a significant departure from his forceful rhetoric a day earlier, said yesterday that he would vote against a final health care bill if it includes a provision restricting federal funding for abortion," reports the Boston Globe's Matt Viser.

"Capuano voted for the House bill Saturday, then blasted Senate race rival Martha Coakley on Monday for saying that the abortion provision was so unpalatable that it was worth sinking the overall package.

But yesterday the Somerville Democrat said that his vote over the weekend was merely to advance the legislation so it could be amended later, not an indication of his final political judgment."

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Meantime, "Senate Democrats, struggling to reach agreement on how to overhaul the country's health care system, got some practical political advice Tuesday from former President Bill Clinton, whose own effort collapsed 15 years ago," reports McClatchy Newspapers' David Lightman.

"Don't get too stubborn or demanding as you consider different pieces of the vast bill, he urged them at a closed-door Capitol meeting. Just pass something. 'It's not important to be perfect. It's important to move,' Clinton said he told the senators. 'The worst thing we can do is nothing. ... There is no perfect bill because there are always unintended consequences,' he said, recalling his remarks after the meeting.

"'So there'll be amendments to this effort, whatever they pass, next year and the year after that — and there should be. ... But the worst thing we can do is nothing. That was my argument,' the former president said."

Politico's Manu Raju, "GOP tries to recapture town hall anger": "Republicans are looking to resurrect the angry town halls of August in the last few weeks of November. Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander said Republicans are 'quietly' planning some 50 in-person and telephone town hall gatherings over the next three weeks to drum up opposition to Democratic health care bills."

Wall Street Journal's John D. McKinnon, "Congress Has History of Reversing Cuts": "In 1997, Congress passed a budget law that mandated tough curbs on Medicare spending, setting up formulas to reduce doctor payments if broad spending targets were exceeded. But when the formula began taking a serious bite out of doctor reimbursements in 2002, Congress acted to reverse the cuts -- a step it has repeated five times since then. That history shows why some critics believe billions of dollars in budget savings Congress is promising through its health-care overhaul might never materialize."

NY Times' Kevin Sack, "States Debate 'Opt Out' Provision": "In the two weeks since the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, embraced a proposal that would allow states to opt out of a new government health insurance plan, state leaders have begun debating whether to take part, and the question has emerged as a litmus test in some campaigns for governor. ... in some conservative states, the public option — which critics portray as the camel's nose under the tent of fully nationalized medicine — is such an anathema that lawmakers and governors may choose to stand against it. Lawmakers in 11 states have introduced measures to block other elements of the federal legislation, like mandates that individuals have insurance and that most employers provide it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures."

NY Times' Gardiner Harris, "Maine Finds a Health Care Fix Elusive": " Maine is the Charlie Brown of health care. The state's legislators have tried for decades to fix its system, but their efforts have always fallen short: health insurance premiums are still among the least affordable in the nation, health care spending per person is among the highest and hospital emergency rooms are among the most crowded. Indeed, many overhauls to the system have done little more than squeeze a balloon — solving one problem while worsening another. But like the Peanuts character, the state keeps trying."

FINANCIAL INDUSTRY REGULATION: "Senate Democrats circulated a plan Tuesday that would impose sweeping curbs on the Federal Reserve, posing the biggest legislative challenge to the central bank in decades and illustrating how divided Capitol Hill remains about the future of financial regulation," report the Wall Street Journal's Damian Paletta and Jon Hilsenrath.

"The move is part of a broader 1,136-page proposal by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd aimed at rewriting how financial markets are overseen. It would create a single banking regulator, a powerful council of regulators to monitor systemic risks to the economy and a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to write and enforce rules on products such as mortgages and credit cards.

"The proposal circulated Tuesday calls for curbs on the Fed's ability to offer emergency loans to individual companies, strips away virtually all of its bank-supervision and consumer-protection powers, and gives the White House and Congress some say in how the Fed's 12 regional banks are governed.

"'Over the last number of years when [the Fed] took on consumer-protection responsibility and regulation of bank holding companies, it was an abysmal failure,' Mr. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, said at a press conference flanked by eight other Democrats on his panel."

"In the House, Representative Barney Frank has guided the Financial Services Committee through meetings that could lead to passage of a comprehensive bill by the full House as early as next month," reports the New York Times' Stephen Labaton. "His committee has already approved a host of major regulatory changes and is expected to complete work soon on a measure that would give the government greater authority to seize large and troubled financial companies.

"But in the Senate, where 60 votes are required to move contentious legislation through the chamber, Mr. Dodd has considerable work ahead of him."

"Dodd's decision to offer a plan significantly different from legislation moving through the House further complicates White House efforts to pass an overhaul by year's end, efforts already hampered by Republican opposition," adds the Los Angeles Times' Jim Puzzanghera. "It also promises to ratchet up the intense lobbying on Capitol Hill over the most far-reaching changes to financial rules since the Great Depression. Industry lobbyists have amassed a $200-million war chest to try to derail measures that threaten banking profits.

"Critics say Dodd's zeal to rein in Wall Street stands in stark contrast to a career spent as an ally of the financial industry, suggesting that his pro-consumer stance may stem from a difficult reelection fight looming next year."

"Fed leaders have previously argued that they need to regulate banks as part of their mission to guide the overall economy, and they defend actions taken during the financial crisis as necessary to avert a far worse recession," write the Washington Post's David Cho, Brady Dennis and Neil Irwin. "But while the Fed could now be headed into a battle with key senators, central bank officials avoided an open conflict Tuesday as a spokeswoman said only that the central bank is reviewing Dodd's proposal.

"With few champions among lawmakers, the Fed may now have to depend on its allies in the administration, which finds itself in an awkward position, congressional sources said. Obama's top economic officials, who argued for months that the system for regulating financial markets needed a major overhaul, now see an effort in the Senate that is more ambitious.

"'Dodd is basically starting out by out-reforming the administration,' said a senior congressional staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.

"Administration officials are taking a long view, aware that legislating such major changes would involve many twists and turns before they're finally adopted. The officials also noted that the bill is similar to the administration's plan in significant ways, such as imposing tough new capital standards on banks, punishing big financial firms for reckless behavior and creating a new agency to protect consumers of mortgages, credit cards and other financial products."

New York Times' Edmund L. Andrews, "Under Attack, Fed Chairman Studies Politics"

STIMULUS: USA Today's Matt Kelley, "Despite monitoring, 'dubious' stimulus spending seen": "The Obama administration has taken credit for canceling or modifying more than 170 proposed projects to prevent waste in the $787 billion stimulus program, yet government records show projects similar to those rejected have received millions in stimulus funds."

Boston Globe's Jenn Abelson and Todd Wallack, "Stimulus fund job benefits exaggerated, review finds": "While Massachusetts recipients of federal stimulus money collectively report 12,374 jobs saved or created, a Globe review shows that number is wildly exaggerated. Organizations that received stimulus money miscounted jobs, filed erroneous figures, or claimed jobs for work that has not yet started."

Denver Post's Burt Hubbard, "Stimulus-jobs count in Colorado overinflated": "Click on the computerized map of the state of Colorado on the federal government's stimulus-spending Web page, and it displays 8,094 full-time jobs created or saved in the state. It's a number that is inflated by at least 1,000 jobs, the result of confusing reporting requirements, inaccurate reporting and, perhaps, overreaching at some reporting agencies."


The Hill's Walter Alarkon, "Reid tees up 2010 jobs bill"

Wall Street Journal's Ruth Simon, "Mortgage Program Gathers Steam After Slow Start"
  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.

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