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Politics Today: Skepticism from the Left and Right on Obama's Afghan Plan

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

** Bipartisan support needed to fund buildup could hard for Obama to find...

** Senators target seniors and women with first health care amendments...

** White House crashers have some explaining to do after e-mails are revealed...

AFGHANISTAN: Following his highly-anticipated Afghanistan war speech last night, President Obama will let Congress mull over his plan today as he stays at the White House with no public events scheduled.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen will testify about the plan to the Senate Armed Services and the House Foreign Affairs Committees today.

Meantime, "A barrage of instant criticism blasting President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan strategy from across the political spectrum signaled the challenges ahead in selling the plan to a skeptical public and Congress," reports the Wall Street Journal's Peter Wallsten.

"Some of Mr. Obama's most loyal supporters among liberal grass-roots groups denounced the 30,000-troop escalation—despite a newly revealed plan for a quick drawdown that White House officials had hoped would mollify the left.

"Many Republicans, while supporting the troop increase, were quick to charge that the timetable for withdrawal would embolden U.S. adversaries. Arizona Sen. John McCain warned that Mr. Obama risked telling the enemy 'that you're coming and you're leaving.'"

USA Today's Susan Page and Kathy Kiely, "Democrats who are usually his most reliable allies expressed criticism, sometimes heatedly, over his failure to detail when the U.S. mission would end.

"'I'm a big fan of the president's,' said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. 'But I think he's come to the wrong conclusion.'

"That leaves Obama in a perilous political situation, facing a potential mutiny on this issue among liberal interest groups such as MoveOn that helped elect him and Democratic legislators on whom he is counting to pass a health care bill in the next few weeks.

"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who must shepherd the president's proposals through Congress, acknowledged that Obama's plan would spark debate in Democrats' ranks. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan expressed misgivings about the Afghans' willingness to take charge of their own security. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota worried about the costs involved, especially when many Americans are struggling."

"Among Republicans there was a greater acceptance of the troop buildup but alarm at Obama's goal of beginning to withdraw some forces by July 2011," adds Politico's David Rogers. "That's just 18 months from today and only a year after most of the new troops will be in place next summer, and critics argue this is unrealistic given the uncertain task ahead.

"Defense Secretary Robert Gates is sure to face questioning on this point Wednesday when he appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where both Sens. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) are already challenging Obama's assumptions.

"'Is he saying withdrawal based on conditions on the ground or a timeline?' McCain told Politico. 'That's a contradiction.'

"'He did a very good job of laying the groundwork but I strongly disagree with even mentioning the 18 months,' said Chambliss. 'This is what the Taliban were hoping to hear. That we're not going to be there for long.'"

McCain told CBS News' Katie Couric "repeatedly that he disagrees with what he called 'an arbitrary date for withdrawal.' The Vietnam veteran often used the same phrase in reference to the war in Iraq, including during his campaign against Obama for the presidency last year.

"'Success is what dictates dates for withdrawal and if we don't have that success and we only set an arbitrary date, it emboldens our enemies and disspirits our friends,' McCain said. ...

"Couric pressed McCain about how Afghan President Hamid Karzai could be pressured to act and not consider the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan open-ended without some kind of established withdrawal deadline.

"McCain's' reply was a bit odd. 'Hamid Karzai knows very well that if U.S. troops leave he will be leaving shortly thereafter or find himself probably assassinated,' McCain said, suggesting that the Afghan leader would share McCain's opposition to withdrawal deadlines."

And in case you're wondering, yes, Sarah Palin weighed in on Mr. Obama's speech, writing on her Facebook page, "Finally, A Decision for Afghanistan: We're In It to Win It".

"At long last, President Obama decided to give his military commanders much of what they need to accomplish their mission in Afghanistan," Palin writes. "In the end, he decided to endorse a 'surge' for Afghanistan, applying the counterinsurgency principles of 'clear, hold and build' that worked so well in Iraq. Given that he opposed the surge in Iraq, it is even more welcome that he now supports a surge in Afghanistan. ...

"We should be clear, however, that fewer troops mean assuming more risk. Talk of an exit date also risks sending the wrong message. We should be in Afghanistan to win, not to set a timetable for withdrawal that signals a lack of resolve to our friends, and lets our enemies believe they can wait us out. As long as we're in to win, and as long as troop level decisions are based on conditions on the ground and the advice of our military commanders, I support President Obama's decision."

A major looming issue in Congress: how to pay for the president's plan.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc., has proposed a so-called "war tax" to fund the $30 billion needed for the troop escalation.

"The fact is we've been told all throughout the health care debate that we must pay for every dollar of that bill," Obey told Katie Couric. "Well if that's the case they why should we not also pay for this effort? This effort is not just going to cost $30 billion on top of what we're already spending in Afghanistan – it's going to cost over $90 billion in a year."

"Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) pledged earlier in the day to find ways to fund the war effort but did not offer specifics," adds the Washington Post's Paul Kane. "'I generally am in favor of paying for what we do, but because of the economic crisis that confronts us, that [war tax] effort is complicated,' Hoyer told reporters.

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had promised antiwar Democrats in the spring that they would not have to vote on another supplemental war-funding bill, something they were keenly aware of Tuesday. 'What I fear is we're getting sucked into a war without end,' Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said.

"McGovern said the only way to pass the funding measure might be to use a parliamentary move that would split the legislation into two parts, one including humanitarian and diplomatic aid -- which would probably pass on a bipartisan vote -- and another including the military funding. Pelosi used such a move in 2007 and 2008 to approve war funds largely on GOP support."

Meantime, the BBC reports, "The Taliban have vowed to step up their fight in Afghanistan, after pledges by the US and its allies to send large reinforcements to the country.

"A Taliban spokesman said such moves would 'provoke stronger resistance'.

"US President Barack Obama, announcing a long-awaited strategy on Tuesday, said another 30,000 American troops would be deployed quickly in Afghanistan.

"Nato's secretary general said non-US members would contribute at least 5,000 extra troops next year.

"'Obama will witness lots of coffins heading to America from Afghanistan,' Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahamdi told AFP news agency. 'Their hope to control Afghanistan by military means will not become reality.'"

Analysis of Mr. Obama's speech:

CBS News' Bob Schieffer, "The 'Defining Moment' of Obama's Presidency"

CBS News' Marc Ambinder, "Obama Taking Big Risk with Afghanistan Decision"

CBS News' Kimberly Dozier, "Obama's Surge Comes with an Expiration Date"

Slate's John Dickerson, "The Fog of War – Obama's Afghanistan speech was confusing"

Politico's Ben Smith, "A sober call for a limited Afghan mission"

NY Times' Peter Baker and Adam Nagourney, "Two Messages for Two Sides"

Washington Post's Dan Balz, "With speech, Obama makes the conflict truly his own"

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf writes in the Wall Street Journal, "The Afghan-Pakistan Solution"

5696255HEALTH CARE: "Senators prepared to cast their first votes Wednesday on health-care reform, but even as partisan divisions hardened and contentious amendments stacked up, Democrats increasingly expressed optimism that they would succeed in passing a bill before Christmas," report the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery.

"The initial amendments offered illustrated the legislation's vast scope and lingering vulnerabilities. The first, co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), would increase preventative health care for women at a 10-year cost of $940 million. One aim of the measure is to blunt concerns raised last month when an independent commission recommended that women undergo mammograms less frequently.

"The second amendment, authored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), would strip out the bill's primary revenue source, nearly $500 billion in Medicare cost savings. Although AARP and other seniors groups have said otherwise, Republicans are attacking the cuts as a threat that could eventually shorten lives...

"Other flashpoints expected to reach the floor in the form of amendments would target provisions in the bill related to abortion and illegal immigrants. Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said debate could continue through the weekend. 'I want people to feel that they've had an opportunity to understand the bill, offer whatever amendments they think will improve it,' he told reporters Tuesday."

Re: McCain's amendment, he "pushed to send the healthcare bill back to committee with instructions to restore more than $400 billion in proposed cuts over the next decade, much of it in Medicare," writes the Los Angeles Times' Noam N. Levey.

"The GOP charges infuriated Democrats, who pointed out that many Republicans have voted for even deeper cuts to Medicare in the past. When McCain was running for president, his top aide talked of trimming Medicare spending to fund new tax credits to help Americans buy health benefits.

"'Talk about crocodile tears,' Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Tuesday. 'Was it not Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, leader of the Republican revolution, that said he wanted Medicare to, quote, 'wither on the vine'? Was it not Sen. Bob Dole, the [Republican] standard-bearer for president in the 1990s, who said he had fought against Medicare and was proud he voted against it?'"

Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt and Janet Adamy, "Health-Bill Amendments Court Women, Seniors"

NY Times' Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn, "Senators Pitch to Women and Elderly on Health Bill"

(AP / CBS)
Meantime, The Hill's J. Taylor Rushing and Bob Cusak report, "A new measure on the public option will be unveiled next week, which Senate Democratic leaders hope will break the logjam on healthcare reform.

"Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who has been tapped by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to come up with a Plan B approach to the public option controversy that has divided Democrats, has been working closely with liberal and conservative Democrats, as well as Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

"In an interview, Carper acknowledged that Reid's 'opt out' public option bill does not have 60 votes necessary for passage, even though it cleared a procedural hurdle last month.

"If it attracts widespread support, the Carper measure could be added to Reid's bill, which is expected to be debated on the Senate floor over the next several weeks."

"Republicans are ... attempting to blunt the force of the Democratic message machine during the health care debate, which Reid hopes to wrap up before Christmas," reports Roll Call's Emily Pierce.

"With the Democratic National Committee, the White House and Reid's 'war room' working round the clock to counter GOP attacks on Reid's health care bill, McConnell has launched his own rapid-response effort.

"Starting Tuesday, the Senate Republican Communications Center, McConnell's version of Reid's war room, began a rapid-response plan based on the GOP's efforts during the fight over Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's nomination, GOP aides said."

USA Today, "Q&A: Pressing concerns on health care legislation"

5803574WHITE HOUSE CRASHERS: "Copies of e-mails between the White House party crashers and a Pentagon official undermine their claims that they were invited to President Barack Obama's first state dinner," report the Associated Press' Julie Pace and Eileen Sullivan.

"Tareq and Michaele Salahi pressed the friendly Pentagon aide for four days to score tickets to the big event. By their own admission in the e-mails, they showed up at the White House gates at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 24 without an invitation — 'to just check in, in case it got approved since we didn't know, and our name was indeed on the list!'

"But the Secret Service has said they weren't on that list and that it erred by letting them in anyway.
In an e-mail sent just hours after last week's dinner to Pentagon official Michele Jones, the Salahis claimed a dead cell phone battery prevented them from hearing Jones' voice mail earlier that day advising them they did not make the guest list."

The e-mails are "expected to be reviewed Thursday by the House Homeland Security Committee," add the LA Times' Kathleen Hennessey and Mark Silva. "The Salahis, along with Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan and White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, have been asked to testify.

"As of Tuesday, only Sullivan, who has accepted blame for the security breach, was confirmed to appear, according to committee spokesman Adam Comis.

"Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told CNN late Tuesday that he believed the Salahis would appear. He said Rogers, a close associate of the Obamas, had declined to appear before the committee...

"From now on, the social office will staff the gates to help the Secret Service, the first lady's communications director, Camille Johnston, told the Associated Press on Tuesday."

Washington Post's Robin Givhan, "Roger's unwanted new guest: Scrutiny"

Washington Post's Neely Tucker and Mary Jordan, "A new field of inquiry: Salahis' polo cup"


Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Eric Stirgus and Ernie Suggs, "Atlanta mayor: Reed declares victory"

Boston Globe's Matt Viser and Frank Phillips, "Candidates spar on abortion issue"

Washington Post's Tim Craig, "District approves same-sex marriage"

Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Joel Connolly, "Huckabee passes buck on responsibility in police killings"

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