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 White House faces limitations in what it can do for the job market...
** Congress questions Obama's Afghanistan plan...
** White House crashers may be forced to testify before Congress...
"The forum will assemble economists, union heads and business leaders such as Eric Schmidt, chief executive officer of Mountain View, California-based Google Inc., and Fred Smith of Memphis, Tennessee-based FedEx Corp.," writes Bloomberg News' Nicholas Johnston. "With the nation's unemployment rate at a 23-year high of 10.2 percent, Obama will solicit feedback on job-creation proposals such as incentives to make homes more energy efficient, increased access to financing for small business and tax credits for companies…
"The companies that will be represented at the White House, including Dallas-based AT&T Inc., Chicago-based Boeing Co. and New York-based Pfizer Inc., provide a snapshot of the nation's employment woes, having cut more than 36,000 jobs this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg."
"Obama convenes a summit here on jobs, then flies Friday to Allentown, Pa., for the first in what will be periodic listening tours on the economy," adds USA Today's Richard Wolf. "The goal is to develop new spending and tax proposals to help many of the nation's nearly 16 million unemployed people find work in 2010...
"'The American people recognize that we have two twin challenges,' White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer says. 'They're concerned about deficits, and they're concerned about jobs.' ...
"The White House's decision to hold a summit and put the president on the road reflects the need to build public support for whatever plan Democrats push.
"'Congress is worried. They're the ones who are up for election next November,' says Dean Baker of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research."
4929152"[F]or all the theater of the event," writes the Wall Street Journal's Neil King Jr., "Mr. Obama has limited leverage to try to spur job growth, with interest rates already at rock bottom and federal deficits soaring. His aides say Mr. Obama plans to eschew measures that would dramatically ratchet up the deficit, preferring more modest steps to encourage small businesses to grow or help homeowners boost energy efficiency.
"'This recession was so deep and has left us with an unemployment rate so high that doing nothing is not an option,' said Christina Romer, head of the president's Council of Economic Advisers.
"What the White House is seeking, she said, 'are the things where a relatively small investment by the government will have a big impact on private-sector job creation.' Measures that would fit this mold, she said, include enticements for homeowners to do energy-efficiency retrofits, small-business credit programs, and tax incentives for investment and employment.
"To free up money for a small-business initiative, the White House may seek to tap funds left over in the Troubled Assets Relief Program, according to congressional and administration sources."
"Obama's options are limited, as the administration already has signaled that it is unwilling to make any investments that would add significantly to the nation's ballooning deficit," add the Washington Post's Michael A. Fletcher and Ben Pershing.
"[M]any congressional Democrats want Obama to do more to directly help people they say perceive the president's economic initiatives as mostly benefiting big business...
"On Wednesday, 10 members of the Congressional Black Caucus boycotted a House committee markup of a financial regulatory reform bill, a key Obama priority, to protest the administration not doing more to aid minority communities and businesses that are hurting economically…
"But while Democrats are in broad agreement that a jobs bill is needed, they display little consensus about what should be in it or how -- or whether -- to pay for it."
Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., offers a 10-point plan on how to fix the economy in a USA Today op-ed, but not before taking a dig at Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats: "His failure to stem the unemployment tide should not have been a surprise. With no experience whatsoever in the world of employment and business formation, he had no compass to guide his path. Instead, he turned over much of his economic recovery agenda to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, themselves nearly as inexperienced in the private sector as he. Congress gave him and them everything they asked for, including a history-making three-quarters of a trillion dollar stimulus.
"But it did little to stimulate the real economy – where jobs are created."
"Few joined with Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) in categorically rejecting Obama's description of vital U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan, his deployment of 30,000 additional troops and his plan for eventual withdrawal from both countries. 'I'm still not convinced,' Murtha said. 'I do not see an achievable goal.'
"But full-throated endorsements were rare, especially among Democrats, many of whom have questioned the troop escalation and what it will cost. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), No. 3 in the Senate leadership, said he will 'weigh carefully' Obama's words. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress and the American people will 'fully examine' the president's plan."
"Anxious Democrats show little appetite for seriously blocking President Barack Obama's new war strategy for Afghanistan and appear to be looking for ways instead to bridge their differences with the White House before funding is debated next year," adds Politico's David Rogers.
"Obama hurt his own cause with an uncertain performance Tuesday night as he announced his 30,000-troop buildup from West Point. But the president is helped by a strong Cabinet, and the months of internal administration deliberations paid dividends Wednesday as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton teamed up in forceful appearances before skeptical Senate and House committees.
"The House remains the greater challenge than the Senate, but even there, the party leadership seems intent on trying to minimize its divisions with the president.
"The Appropriations leadership is pushing back against demands from anti-war liberals for a quick vote on funding next month, and this delay buys time for Obama to proceed with his plan and negotiate conditions or benchmarks to bring along Democrats."
As for that apparent timetable contradiction, it's a major theme in today's coverage of the president's Afghanistan plan.
5869074McClatchy Newspapers' David Lightman and William Douglas, "Lawmakers confused, divided over Obama's Afghanistan plan"
LA Times' Paul Richter and Julian E. Barnes, "Afghanistan timetable raises questions"
Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman and Yochi Dreazen, "Time Limit on Surge Draws Fire"
Meantime, this "surge" is being compared to another "surge": former President Bush's Iraq "surge" in 2007.
LA Times' Julian E. Barnes, Ned Parker and Laura King, "Obama was an outspoken critic of former President Bush's decision to increase troop strength in Iraq in early 2007, a point nearly four years after the U.S.-led invasion when the country was in the midst of a sectarian war. He maintained his opposition throughout the presidential campaign, shrugging off Republican criticism that he was overlooking the subsequent decline in violence.
"The Afghan strategy Obama announced Tuesday shares many similarities with the Iraq "surge": a similar number of troops, a fast push into the country, a limited duration, an emphasis on training local forces and a hope of flipping the allegiance of insurgents.
"But experts say there are key differences between the two countries, particularly in the nature of the insurgency, the terrain, the quality of security forces and the political atmosphere. Some of what worked in Iraq is likely to prove more difficult in Afghanistan, they say. And even in Iraq, after the added troops have left, all the gains are not necessarily secure."
Politico's Alex Isenstadt, "Surge forces Democrats to pick: Base or White House": "The president's decision forces Democratic candidates to stake uncomfortable positions that will either put them at odds with the administration or the party's progressive base—a troubling prospect since Democratic voter turnout in 2010 is predicated on having an enthusiastic and motivated base.
"But equally important, the troop buildup is already emerging as a divisive issue in a handful of Democratic primary elections while threatening to expose other Democrats to general election risk because of contradictory past statements on Afghanistan or Iraq war strategy."
"But even as lawmakers announced an agreement to begin voting Thursday, Democrats accused Republicans of stalling debate and obstructing the legislation.
"In a closed-door meeting of his caucus, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, told Democrats that Republicans were not interested in passing a bill. In effect, he prepared them for trench warfare, saying the Democrats must stick together and should be ready to work weekends to finish the bill before Christmas.
"For their part, Republicans said it was unrealistic to expect quick action on such a big bill, and they denied they were stalling."
Bloomberg News' Kristin Jensen and Laura Litvan, "Senate Democrats threatened to bypass Republican amendments to hasten debate over U.S. health-care legislation as delays jeopardized the goal of passage this year.
"Democratic leaders voiced frustration as the deliberations stretched into a third day without a vote on any amendment. Blaming Republicans for stalling, Democrats may act to remove the opposition party's amendments from floor consideration by tabling them, said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.
"'We're not going to sit here and watch this bill go down,' Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, told reporters yesterday. He warned that work may continue through the Christmas holidays if necessary.
Republican leaders vowed to remain in Washington as long as needed to fight legislation that they say would cost too much and damage the health-care system."
Meantime, reports The Hill's Jeffrey Young, "The public option has gone through several stages of evolution this year, but it could soon face extinction unless one of the new versions picks up political momentum.
"Senate Democrats have marketed a new 'opt-out' public option in recent weeks, and another proposal is expected next week.
"The proposals have fended off GOP calls for the elimination of the government-run healthcare plan. But it remains to be seen how much life is left in the public option, because no variation has attracted the backing of 60 senators."
5803574WHITE HOUSE CRASHERS: Washington Post's Will Haygood, Jason Horowitz and Michael D. Shear, "The White House tried to put the whole Salahi incident to rest Wednesday night. And on Thursday morning, Bennie Thompson will stir it all up again.
"Thompson, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, will hold a hearing to get, he says, at the truth of what happened. He hopes to help settle the nerves of a nation rattled by the ease with which an apparently uninvited couple breached layers of security, breezed into the White House and shook President Obama's hand at a state dinner last week.
"But Thompson's hearing is also making White House officials nervous.
"They have refused to make social secretary Desirée Rogers available for the inquiry and, with a memo acknowledging that administration staff had contributed to the security breach, they have sought to put an end to the matter and make the hearings old news by the time they start."
NY Times' Ginger Thompson, "Mr. Thompson said he believed that the Salahis' testimony was crucial to Congress's investigation and that if the couple were absent from Thursday's hearing, 'the committee is prepared to move forward with subpoenas to compel their appearance.'
"The Salahis are not the only ones who have declined to appear before Mr. Thompson's committee. The White House announced that Desiree Rogers, President Obama's social secretary, would also not provide testimony. In a briefing with reporters, Mr. Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said, 'Based on separation of powers, staff here don't go testify before Congress.'
"Ms. Rogers's office has come under mounting scrutiny since the Salahis made it past White House security checkpoints and into the most exclusive gala of the season. Some legislators have raised questions about why members of Ms. Rogers's staff had not been assigned to work alongside Secret Service agents as guests checked into the dinner, as had been standard procedure under previous administrations."
Washington Post's Paul Farhi, "Cheerleaders get fired up about Salahi": "Before she made it into a White House state dinner without an official invitation, Michaele Salahi made it onto the Redskins alumni cheerleading squad -- without ever having been a Redskins cheerleader.
"Salahi performed at FedEx Field during halftime of the Redskins-St. Louis Rams game Sept. 20 with a group of 150 former Redskins cheerleaders. Salahi's rehearsals with the group were filmed by a crew that has been following Michaele Salahi and her husband, Tareq, for possible inclusion on a cable TV reality show, 'The Real Housewives of D.C.'
"Several former cheerleaders said in interviews that Michaele Salahi's presence at a rehearsal drew attention because of the TV cameras, but also suspicion because no one seemed to remember her as a cheerleader for the team.
"Their doubts were heightened when Salahi couldn't perform some of the basic cheerleader routines, including the standard choreography for the team's fight song, 'Hail to the Redskins.' ... a producer asked [former Redskins cheerleader Sheryl] Olecheck, who was directing Salahi's group, if she could move Salahi to the front row in order to film her better. Olecheck declined. 'I already had the formation, and besides, she was too tall and couldn't dance,'" she said.
NY Times' Edmund L. Andrews, "Senator Moves to Hold Up Bernanke Confirmation"
Wall Street Journal's Louise Radnofsky, "Mistakes in Stimulus Report Under Review"
Washington Post's Rob Stein, "U.S. set to fund more stem cell study"
Boston Globe's Matt Viser and Andrea Estes, "In final debate, Coakley foes go after each other"
Washington Post's Dan Balz, "Democrats say they'll be on defensive in '10"
Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Cameron McWherter, "Atlanta mayoral election: Race a key factor"
Florida Times-Union's David Hunt, "Hard for Huckabee to avoid questions about cop-killer"
Springfield News-Leader's Chad Livengood, "Palin speaks about her time in government at College of the Ozarks"
Politico's Patrick O'Connor and Josh Kraushaar, "Tanner's departure alarms Dems"
USA Today's Joan Biskupic, "Fla. Property case no day at the beach for Supreme Court"