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Politics Today: Obama Turns from Wall Street to Main Street

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:

** Use of leftover bailout funds may be limited by budget rules...

** A set of compromises to replace the public option?...

** Gates says we're in it to "win" it in Afghanistan...

(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
JOBS AND THE ECONOMY: President Obama is set to deliver a speech on the economy today at 11:15am ET at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., where, according to a White House official, he "will announce three key priorities for targeted investment—including a series of steps to help small businesses grow and hire new staff, an additional investment in infrastructure to continue modernizing our highways and railways, bridges and tunnels, airports and seaports and a new program to provide rebates for consumers who retrofit their homes to become more energy efficient.

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

"Obama plans to talk about what he wants to see in the coming weeks and months — chiefly, more Americans in the workplace and fewer on unemployment, which now stands at 10 percent," adds the Associated Press' Philip Elliott. "The White House worked around the clock in recent days to pull together the president's speech."

Meantime, reports the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman, "White House officials have concluded that their ability to use Wall Street bailout funds for a new job-creation initiative will be strictly limited by budget rules and the terms of the original bailout legislation, administration and congressional officials said Monday.

"Bailout funds are likely to be restricted mainly to a new small-business lending effort.

"President Barack Obama will likely mention the Troubled Asset Relief Program in a speech on job creation Tuesday at the Brookings Institution, White House officials say. The Treasury Department's assessment that the bailout will cost $200 billion less than it had expected this summer will give the Obama administration more latitude to spend money on job creation, the president is expected to say.

(CBS)
"'TARP has turned out to be much cheaper than we had expected, although not cheap,' Mr. Obama said Monday. 'Some of that money can be devoted to deficit reduction. And the question is, are there selective approaches that are consistent with the original goals of TARP -- for example, making sure that small businesses are still getting lending that would be appropriate in accelerating job growth?'"

Washington Post's David Cho and Michael A. Fletcher, "Politics may ultimately play into the decision of how to use the unspent bailout funds, analysts said. The administration is aware that worries over high unemployment often trump voters' concerns about budget deficits, said analysts and economists in contact with Obama's aides. Democrats on Capitol Hill say the idea of using a Wall Street bailout to help small businesses has a lot of appeal among lawmakers and voters.

"'Unemployment is very real. People see it every day,' said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank. 'If we are sitting at 10 percent unemployment and we are talking about balancing the budget, that's almost impossible to manage.'

"Other economists disagree. While limiting the spending of unallocated TARP funds would not significantly affect the nation's budget deficit, it would send a signal to the financial markets that the government will not go on a massive spending binge each time an economic crisis breaks out."

Politico's David Rogers, "W.H. predicts a stimulating winter": "The White House, under pressure to do more on the jobs front, is projecting that the pace of stimulus spending will double over the next six months as last winter's giant economic recovery package hits its stride."

Washington Post's Dan Balz, "Entering an election year, Democrats sharpen focus on jobs"

(AP)
HEALTH CARE: "Racing to complete work on healthcare legislation before Christmas, Senate Democrats worked on a compromise Monday that could leave their bill without a new government insurance plan," report the Los Angeles Times' Noam N. Levey and Janet Hook.

"Instead, Democratic lawmakers are exploring an alternative that would authorize the federal government to contract with a commercial insurer to offer benefits to millions of Americans who do not get coverage through employers.

"The compromise could include an expansion of Medicare that would allow some Americans as young as 55 to buy into the program, according to lawmakers and others involved in the discussions. That element is an effort to mollify liberals who have demanded that the government set up its own insurance plan, or public option, to compete with private insurers."

Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, "Progressive senators reacted more positively to the developments than did activists. Their reaction to the swap of a public option for a national nonprofit insurance plan might have been best captured by a spokeswoman for one of the major groups pushing for a public plan, who wrote on her personal blog: 'The latest noncompromise compromise is absolute crap and totally unacceptable.'

"The new proposals raised a number of political uncertainties. Would stronger insurance regulations alienate Nelson and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)? Would governors balk at the expansion of Medicaid, which they say severely burdens states?

"And how would an expansion of Medicare exacerbate a program that is already headed toward insolvency by 2017? Doctors and hospitals have resisted broadening Medicare and Medicaid because the government reimbursement rates for both programs are lower than private insurance.

"'It's got many of the same problems I have with previous versions of the public option,' said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who contends that hospitals in his state would go bankrupt. 'That then ties you to Medicare levels of reimbursements for a whole new population.'"

USA Today's John Fritze, "Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., a centrist opposed to government insurance who is also involved in the talks, wants more detail on the Medicare idea but said 'discussions are going in the right direction.' ...

"Even as lawmakers reported progress on the public option, they began debating the issue of abortion. An amendment, offered Monday by Nelson, would prohibit insurers from covering an abortion for anyone who receives federal subsidies to help pay for premiums."

"The abortion provision, co-sponsored by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), would bar individuals who receive federal insurance subsidies from purchasing private policies that cover elective abortions," writes the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray. "It also would ban coverage under a government plan -- an issue that could become moot if the public option is dropped.

"A vote on the abortion amendment is expected Tuesday, and Nelson has warned that he could oppose the health-care bill unless the current Senate language is changed. Nelson's support is crucial: Without him, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) would be one vote short of the 60 needed to pass the measure."

Meantime, McClatchy Newspapers' David Lightman and William Douglas report, "Republicans trying to slow action on the Democrats' health care plan are using the same tactics as the lawmakers who once tried to block progress on civil rights and women's rights, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday.

"'History is repeating itself before our eyes,' the Nevada Democrat said as he opened the day's debate on health care.

"While congressional analysts thought that comparing GOP strategists to the senators who tried to thwart historic civil rights movements was misplaced, they agreed with Reid that the Republican effort to slow the health care bill is well-rooted in U.S. Senate history...

"Republicans were outraged.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. labeled them 'inflammatory' and 'irresponsible.'

Washington Post's Lois Romano and Alec MacGillis, "Lieberman riles many with role in health debate"

5869074AFGHANISTAN: NY Times' Mark Landler and Helene Cooper report, "Officials Try to Unite on Afghan Plan": "On a seven-hour trip from Kabul to a NATO meeting in Brussels last week, the two men in Kabul most responsible for American policy in Afghanistan exchanged few words, according to administration officials, holing up in separate compartments on their military plane.

"The quiet flight of the two officials, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and Karl W. Eikenberry, the United States ambassador to Afghanistan, reflects a chill between the two men that officials said took hold even before they staked out conflicting positions in the debate over how many added American troops to send to Afghanistan.

"When General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry sit down next to each other on Tuesday to testify before the House and Senate about President Obama's new Afghan policy, they will have to work hard to project the image of lockstep unity so valued by this White House.

"How the military commander and the diplomatic envoy reconcile their positions promises to be one of the most eagerly watched spectacles in Washington this week — one that may give a glimpse into a process that was more divisive than the White House would like outsiders to believe."

"Congressional Democrats plan to give the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan a chance Tuesday to explain how he will use an emergency infusion of 30,000 U.S. forces and whether he will be able to assure lawmakers that these troops will begin to be brought home in 18 months," the AP reports.

"Gen. Stanley McChrystal is the star witness for a second round of congressional questioning since President Obama announced the Afghanistan war surge last week. McChrystal had warned of failure without an addition of about 40,000 U.S. forces and, like other military leaders, he has made clear that the 18-month timeline is not a firm deadline to close out the war.

"Many Democrats opposed to the escalation will try to get the general to say Obama's plan is inconsistent, congressional aides said Monday. Based on his statements ahead of the decision, it's clear McChrystal would have made different choices. Nevertheless, he is expected to salute the new program.
On the other side, Republicans are likely to press McChrystal to apply the most elastic terms possible to that 18-month timeline for the surge."

CBS News' Kimberly Dozier, "Taking The Measure of Stanley McChrystal"

(AP Photo/Justin Sullivan, Pool)
Meantime, writes the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived in this war-torn country Tuesday morning on an unannounced visit, prepared to offer U.S. troops a message from Washington after President Obama's decision to boost troop levels significantly: 'We are in this thing to win.'

"'A big piece of it, of my conversations especially with the soldiers, will be just to thank them for their service, for their sacrifice and to tell them we are in this thing to win,' Gates, speaking to reporters traveling with him, said before his arrival here.

"Gates, the first senior U.S. official to travel to Afghanistan since Obama's announcement, said he will stress to President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials that the United States will not abandon them as it did in 1989, when the Soviet Union left in defeat. The United States had backed forces fighting the Soviets, but ended its support after Moscow quit the war, paving the way for Taliban rule."

Associated Press: "Mr. Gates, who met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul, is the first member of President Barack Obama's cabinet to visit since Mr. Obama announced last week that he is sending 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan, but intends to pare down the U.S. role in July 2011. The defense secretary and other administration officials have described the 2011 date as just the beginning, with the process likely take at least two or three years to complete.

"Finding ways to strengthen and increase recruiting in the beleaguered Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police was among the topics Messrs. Gates and Karzai discussed. At a joint news conference, Mr. Karzai said it would be 15 years before Afghanistan would be able to pay the cost of maintaining the Afghan security forces.

"Mr. Karzai also reaffirmed his commitment to fight corruption. The president, who won re-election to a second term in a ballot marred by fraud, is expected to announce his new cabinet in the next several days. It will be the first test of Mr. Karzai's willingness to meet his pledge to reform the government.

"He is under intense pressure from the international community to nominate a slate of reformists to help rid his government of bribery and graft."

(AP/CBS)
REPLACING TED KENNEDY: Boston Globe's Brian C. Mooney and Matt Viser, "For three months, the candidates for US Senate have tried to generate voter excitement for a special primary election that has often seemed to be off the public's radar. Today, with low turnout expected across the state, their campaign organizations will pull out all the stops to get those voters who were paying attention into the polling booths.

"The four Democrats scrambled to reach late-deciding voters yesterday by every means possible, by airwaves, telephone, in person, and via the Internet, and then turned the campaigns over to their ground games for today's final push.

"The campaigns of Attorney General Martha Coakley, US Representative Michael E. Capuano, City Year cofounder Alan Khazei, and Celtics co-owner Stephen G. Pagliuca are all operating on models assuming a turnout of 500,000 or fewer voters…

"The winner of the Democratic race will face off in the Jan. 19 special election against the winner of today's Republican primary, state Senator Scott Brown or Duxbury businessman Jack E. Robinson, who appeared in their only televised debate last night on WGBH-TV."

Politico's Josh Kraushaar, "Five things to watch in Massachusetts primary"

(AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
CLIMATE CHANGE: "Delegates of the more than 190 governments gathering in Copenhagen to address climate change were met with a warning from Sweden's environment minister: They need to do more," writes the Wall Street Journal's Alessandro Torello.

"International commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming are still too low to prompt the European Union to lift to 30 percent its 2020 target for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren said, as two weeks of negotiations for a global deal to fight climate change opened in the Danish capital.

"'At this particular moment, the bids on the table are too low, and we still expect the parties to deliver more,' Mr. Carlgren said during a press conference. He said the bids currently under negotiations would not prevent the earth from warming by more than two degrees Celsius, a level considered dangerous for catastrophic consequences on the environment.

"The EU expects a greater level of commitment from China and the U.S., Mr. Carlgren said, adding that he expects U.S. President Barack Obama to offer more ambitious pledges than those recently announced, when he attends the last day of the negotiations on Dec. 18."

Politico's Lisa Lerer and Louise Roug, "Critics start fast in Copenhagen"

Meantime, "The Environmental Protection Agency said Monday that global warming pollution endangered the health and welfare of Americans and must be reduced, a move that seemed timed to signal that the U.S. is serious about joining an international bid to reduce the risks of damaging climate change," reports McClatchy Newspapers' Renee Schoof.

"Monday's finding means that the EPA will proceed with preparations to regulate large producers of greenhouse gas emissions. Those rules could take effect if Congress doesn't pass legislation.

"Nonetheless, it probably would be years before new EPA rules took effect for existing coal-fired power plants, the main source of heat-trapping gases. The Obama administration prefers to have Congress do that work through a climate and energy law."

"It remains unclear whether the EPA's regulatory cudgel will spur Congress to take faster action on the climate legislation that is now mired in the Senate or whether it will provoke a backlash," write the Washington Post's Steven Mufson and David M. Fahrenthold.

"'The stick approach isn't going to work. In fact, Congress may retaliate,' said Mark Helmke, a senior adviser to Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.). 'They could stop the funding, and they could change the law.'"

CBSNews.com: "Energy prices for many Americans probably would rise - though Monday's finding will have no immediate impact since regulations have yet to be written. Supporters of separate legislation in Congress argue they could craft measures that would mitigate some of those costs.

"CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports that "CO2 limits are in the works, and they're well known. The auto industry has already agreed to cut tailpipe pollution by 950 million tons and raise car mileage standards from around 28 to 39 miles a gallon by 2016.

"The big industrial CO2 polluters - power plants and steel mills - have been alerted that one day CO2 cuts are likely anywhere emissions exceed 25,000 tons per year, Andrews reports."

ALSO:

Reuters, "Obama to mention Afghan war in Nobel Speech"

Quinnipiac University Poll, "Public support for the war in Afghanistan is up nine percentage points in the last three weeks, as American voters say 57 – 35 percent that fighting the war is the right thing to do."

NY Times' Charlie Savage, "Baucus Disclosure Highlights Patronage Power"

Washington Post's Brady Dennis and Renae Merle, "Democrats push more mortgage aid"

Wall Street Journal's Jess Bravin, "Campaign-Finance Ruling Looms"

Associated Press' Brendan Farrington, "Analysis: With election near, Gov. Crist changes"

El Paso Times' Zahira Torres, "Kay Bailey Hutchison officially enters governor's race, filed her candidate paperwork"

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