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Politics Today: Can Obama Handle his Heavy Agenda?

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

** Another public option compromise surfaces...

** Making a profit on TARP...

** World leaders look at the economic side of combating climate change...

5749859PRESIDENT OBAMA: The New York Times' John Harwood ponders, "As Obama's Poll Numbers Fall, Criticism of Multitasking Rises": "President Obama began his week lobbying Democratic senators to unite on an overhaul of the health care system.

"On Tuesday, he will lay out his agenda for creating jobs for the 15 million Americans out of work. Then he travels to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, even as he seeks support for sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

"And next week he heads to Copenhagen in search of a worldwide deal to curb climate change by reducing carbon emissions, with sweeping implications for the American economy.

"Ever since Mr. Obama took office, critics of his leadership style have accused him of tackling too many initiatives at once. That blurs the focus of the White House and Congress, they say, and prevents the president from communicating a clear theme about his agenda to ordinary Americans.

"Now, as Mr. Obama's approval rating in polls has dwindled to 50 percent or below, that criticism has grown louder."

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
HEALTH CARE: "President Obama used a rare meeting on Capitol Hill on Sunday to urge Senate Democrats to consider the historic significance of revamping the nation's health care system as his legislation faced a crucial second week of debate," writes USA Today's John Fritze.

"But the president's effort to rally wavering senators around the 10-year, $848 billion health care bill came as one Democrat prepared to reignite a fight over abortion and others met privately in search of an agreement on a proposed government-run insurance program that has so far proved elusive.

"'That wasn't a negotiation, that was a pep talk,' Obama said later. 'They're doing great.'

"Still, divisions remain in the Democratic caucus over how to structure the proposed government insurance program, known as the public option. Moderates, such as Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., oppose the idea while Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other liberals say it is necessary to provide competition to private insurance companies."

Associated Press' Charles Babington, "Senate to confront abortion in health care debate": "Anti-abortion lawmakers in both parties have insisted that taxpayer funds not be used to pay for abortions in government-run health programs. But some liberals say proposed restrictions go too far by barring federally subsidized health insurance plans from covering abortion even if the procedures were entirely paid for with customers' premiums.

"That's the language the House adopted last month, angering liberal groups. A prominent anti-abortion Democratic senator, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, plans to urge the Senate to follow suit.

"The Senate was to begin debate on Nelson's amendment, reflecting the House language, on Monday, although the senator said he doesn't expect a vote before Tuesday. The amendment appeared unlikely to gain the necessary 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, according to numerous lawmakers."

"Meanwhile, 10 moderate and progressive Democrats tapped by [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid are expected to continue daily meetings aimed at reaching a compromise on the public option, along with improving small-business provisions in the bill," add the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery.

"One potential alternative being discussed Sunday would create a national coverage plan operated by private insurers but run by the Office of Personnel Management, which administers health coverage for federal workers. Senators participating in the talks said the OPM idea had been well received across the ideological spectrum, although details were sketchy. 'I think it has potential,' said Nancy-Ann DeParle, Obama's top health aide...

"One negotiator is Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), the only member of the Democratic caucus who has pledged to oppose legislation that includes a public option in any form. Although Lieberman said the talks were preliminary, he did not rule out supporting the OPM's framework under discussion."

"The push for a deal on the public option indicated the pressure Democrats were feeling to resolve their differences if they hope to pass the bill by their self-imposed deadline of Christmas," write the NY Times' Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn.

"While the floor fight has pitted Democrats against Republicans, the real battle is taking place internally among Democrats... The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Mr. Obama needed support from every Democrat because the bill had 'virtually no appeal to any Republican senator.'

"'Here we are a few weeks before Christmas, with Democrats trying to squeeze every single one of their members to swallow a pretty bitter pill for the American people,' Mr. McConnell said."

McClatchy Newspapers' Halimah Abdullah profiles Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, "Skillful McConnell leads GOP opposition to health bill"

ECONOMY: NY Times' Jackie Calmes, "The Treasury Department expects to recover all but $42 billion of the $370 billion it has lent to ailing companies since the financial crisis began last year, with the portion lent to banks actually showing a slight profit, according to a new Treasury report.

"The new assessment of the $700 billion bailout program, provided by two Treasury officials on Sunday ahead of a report to Congress on Monday, is vastly improved from the Obama administration's estimates last summer of $341 billion in potential losses from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. That figure anticipated more financial troubles requiring intervention.

"The officials said the government could ultimately lose $100 billion more from the bailout program in new loans to banks, aid to troubled homeowners and credit to small businesses.

"Still, the new estimates would lower the administration's deficit forecast for this fiscal year, which began in October, to about $1.3 trillion, from $1.5 trillion."

"The White House has been under pressure to tame the $1.4 trillion budget deficit, which has ballooned as the U.S. borrows vast sums of money," the Wall Street Journal's Deborah Solomon adds. "But with unemployment at 10 percent, the administration is also under pressure to find ways to create new jobs. Lowering deficit projections could help alleviate concerns that a new jobs bill would further inflate the deficit.

"President Barack Obama is expected to raise the idea of using repaid TARP funds for a jobs bill in a speech he plans to give on Tuesday. On Friday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged that repaid bailout money is 'certainly being looked at' for a jobs bill."

Meantime, President Obama is set to deliver remarks on the economy Tuesday at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer previews the speech on the White House blog:

"There is no topic the President brings up more in the Oval Office than putting Americans back to work, and this Tuesday the President takes another step as part of his overall effort to jumpstart job growth for Americans," Pfeiffer writes.

"On Tuesday, the President will outline some key priorities for encouraging businesses to invest and create jobs. This is another stepping stone in a continuous effort to jumpstart job growth. The American people should be assured that until Americans are working again our focus will continue to be job creation.

"We don't think there is one silver bullet, one plan, one speech or a singular piece of legislation that alone will solve double digit unemployment. And the President's speech will not represent the totality of our plans for continued economic recovery."

(CBS/Karin Cooper)
AFGHANISTAN: "President Barack Obama is looking for help in Afghanistan from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan even as tensions simmer between the two NATO allies on Iran and the Middle East," writes the Associated Press' Desmond Butler.

"Before leaving for Washington, Erdogan said Turkey has already contributed the 'necessary number' of troops in Afghanistan, and that Turkish military and police will train their Afghan counterparts and press ahead with health, education and infrastructure projects there.

"Turkey took over the rotating command of the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kabul last month and doubled its number of troops to around 1,750. However, it has resisted repeated U.S. requests to send its troops on combat operations.

"Turkey's participation in the Afghan mission carries enormous symbolic importance because it is the only Muslim country working with U.S. troops to beat back resurgent Taliban and deny al-Qaida a sanctuary."

Meantime, writes the NY Times' Mark Mazzetti, "The Obama administration sent a forceful public message Sunday that American military forces could remain in Afghanistan for a long time, seeking to blunt criticism that President Obama had sent the wrong signal in his war-strategy speech last week by projecting July 2011 as the start of a withdrawal.

"In a flurry of coordinated television interviews, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top administration officials said that any troop pullout beginning in July 2011 would be slow and that the Americans would only then be starting to transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces under Mr. Obama's new plan.

"The television appearances by the senior members of Mr. Obama's war council seemed to be part of a focused and determined effort to ease concerns about the president's emphasis on setting a date for reducing America's presence in Afghanistan after more than eight years of war."

Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Greg Jaffe, "McChrystal's Afghanistan plan stays mainly intact"

REPLACING TED KENNEDY: "In the final weekend before tomorrow's vote, the four Democrats, and the two GOP contenders for US Senate, fanned out across the state to rally supporters - and try to attract new ones. Coakley earned a key backer: former president Bill Clinton recorded a telephone message that will be blasted out today to 500,000 voters urging them to elect her," report the Boston Globe's Matt Viser and Eric Moskowitz.

"Alan Khazei was the only candidate to visit any churches, attending Charles Street AME Church in Dorchester in the morning and in the afternoon, the Spanish Church of God, where he danced in the aisles and repeatedly chanted 'Si se puede' ('Yes we can').

"Stephen G. Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics, started the day with about 30 supporters in Harvard Square who waved to a smattering of passersby and yelled 'What do we want? Health care! When do we want it? Now!' He ended it by releasing a TV advertisement that lasts two minutes, much longer than traditional spots.

"US Representative Michael E. Capuano, wearing a dark coat and a red scarf, walked with his wife for more than a mile along the Christmas parade route in Taunton, waving to the crowd and uttering 'Merry Christmas' dozens of times."

CBS News' John Dickerson, "Four Democrats Battle for Kennedy's Seat"

"[T]he race to replace one of the Senate's best-known members has been a low-key affair," adds USA Today's Kathy Kiely. "'I don't see that many signs around. I don't see bumper stickers,' says Bruce Wallin, a political science professor at Boston's Northeastern University.

"The general election will be Jan. 19, meaning the campaign will continue through the holidays. 'This is not something you want to do in Massachusetts in the middle of winter,' Secretary of State Bill Galvin says.

"The end result: an election that's difficult to predict because no one knows who will turn out to vote. Andrew Smith, a University of New Hampshire political scientist who has been polling the race for TheBoston Globe, says his surveys are pointing to a turnout of about 25%, 'and that's probably a little high.'"

Boston Herald's Jessica van Sack, "Ted Kennedy's kin quietly show pols support": "A game-changing endorsement from Sen. Ted Kennedy's closest kin was not to be, but members of the storied clan have dropped plenty of hints about the candidates vying for the seat held by the family's late patriarch.

"Case-in-point: City Year co-founder Alan Khazei's campaign began circulating a photo over the weekend of Caroline Kennedy with the dark horse candidate at a fund-raiser held in the Big Apple last month... She has not donated to the Khazei campaign. But her daughter, Rose Kennedy Schlossberg, a Harvard University student, signed up to volunteer for Khazei after hearing a speech he made on the war in Afghanistan earlier this month, a campaign official confirmed. It was unclear whether JFK's granddaughter followed through on the commitment.

"And while the late senator's youngest son, U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, stopped short of an endorsement, he has shown warm feelings toward Congressman Michael Capuano, calling him a 'fighter for working people' at a press conference last week."

(AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
CLIMATE CHANGE: The LA Times' Jim Tankersley sets the stage for this week's Copenhagen climate change summit, "Copenhagen climate talks will hinge on economics": "When world leaders gather in Copenhagen today for negotiations on a new agreement to combat climate change, their success or failure will ride on economics, not environmental science.

"Theoretically, the two-week conference will focus on measures to limit emissions of the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. But the major debates will center on money: How could emission limits affect major industries and the jobs they provide? How could a new climate treaty reshape the global economic playing field?

"Those issues sharply divide some of the most important players at the conference, as they ponder the economic possibilities and pitfalls.

"For China and nearly all of Europe, the issue offers tempting opportunities to expand industries and create jobs by developing and selling new technologies for wind, solar, nuclear and other low-emission energy. That is especially the case if there is a strong agreement to move away from the carbon-based energy sources that the world has depended on for more than a century."

NY Times' Andrew C. Revkin and John M. Broder focus on the recent e-mail scandal for their preview of the talks, "As Climate Meeting Starts, a Revival of Skepticism": "[A]s representatives of about 200 nations began talks Monday in Copenhagen on a new international climate accord, they were doing so against a background of renewed attacks on the basic science of climate change.

"The debate, set off by the circulation of several thousand files and e-mail messages stolen from one of the world's foremost climate research institutes, has led some who oppose limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and at least one influential country, Saudi Arabia, to question the scientific basis for the Copenhagen talks.

"The uproar has threatened to complicate a multiyear diplomatic effort already ensnared in difficult political, technical and financial disputes that have caused leaders to abandon hopes of hammering out a binding international climate treaty this year."

Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin, "U.S. urged to do more on climate"

SARAH PALIN: "Palin's stop at a Barnes & Noble Inc. bookstore at the Southern Hills Mall in Sioux City was her first trip to the state since she ran last year on a losing ticket with Senator John McCain of Arizona," reports Bloomberg News' John McCormick

"McCain said yesterday that he maintains a good relationship with Palin and is proud of her.

"'We need vigorous discussion and debate in the Republican Party,' McCain said on NBC's 'Meet the Press' yesterday. 'She's going to be a big part of that discussion and debate in the future.'"

"Palin has said little about her future since resigning from the Alaska governorship in July with more than a year left on her term," adds the Des Moines Register's Tom Beaumont.

"She was equally mum Sunday, offering fewer than 10 words to the corps of press waiting for her outside the bookstore when she arrived...

"Like many of the stops on Palin's book tour, Sioux City had already demonstrated its affection for Palin. While campaigning for GOP presidential nominee John McCain last year, she made her solo Iowa debut in Sioux City, drawing more than 4,500 supporters on a brisk Saturday morning in October.

"Palin's publisher said 500 tickets were given out for Sunday's event, the same as at most stops. The mall opened at 6 a.m. to people who wanted a signed book. Dozens waited outside the store overnight, as temperatures dropped into the teens, to be near the front of the line. The crowd included Palin fans from nearby Nebraska and South Dakota."

Politico's Jeanne Cummings and Andrew Glass, "Palin cracks wise at Gridiron dinner"


Washington Post's Spencer S. Hsu, "Secret Service counts 91 breaches"

Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins and Julie Jargon, "Baucus Tie to Nominee Kept Mum"

Politico's John Bresnahan and Manu Raju, "John Ensign probe shifts into high gear"

NY Times' Eric Lipton and Eric Lichtblau, "Ethics Rules for Congress Curb Trips but Some Find Loopholes"

LA Times' Faye Fiore, "Kennedy Center Honors unite D.C. for a night"

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