Price Tags: Costs Rise for Obama on Afghanistan

By Gorman Gorman

Nov 25, 2009 8:16am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: There are no Thanksgiving sales around here. And not every cost carries a CBO score.

There's the cost of health care reform, and of a troop escalation in Afghanistan, all amid mounting deficits that are actually starting to matter.

Plus there's the political cost of tackling those things, with a skeptical public pushing a worried Congress in the direction of delay.

It's often been said in recent years that the costs of political actions aren't evident when the actions themselves are taking place.

That's changing over this month before Christmas — and who might be thankful for that?

Next up for President Obama — explaining how getting out means getting in deeper:

"President Obama will face the central challenge of explaining why he is escalating an eight-year-old war that is increasingly unpopular with the American public, while he also outlines plans for ending it," The Washington Post's Scott Wilson reports. "Obama's decision to outline an escalation and an exit simultaneously is a result of months of deliberation over a military proposal to expand the war, with no assurance that doing so would result in a more stable Afghanistan." Owning a war means selling a war — and making sure there are buyers:

"Offering that reassuring if somewhat contradictory signal — that by adding troops he can speed the United States toward an exit — is just the first of a set of tricky messages Mr. Obama will have to deliver as he rolls out his strategy publicly," The New York Times' David E. Sanger reports. "Over the next week, he will deliver multiple messages to multiple audiences: voters at home, allies, the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the extremists who are the enemy. And as Mr. Obama's own aides concede, the messages directed at some may undercut the messages sent to others."

Shared burdens: "The president is expected to officially ask NATO to provide 5,000-10,000 more troops when NATO leaders convene next month," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "Alluding to benchmarks requiring progress for the Afghan government and the training of Afghan security forces that aides say are part of the new strategy, the president also noted that part of the new strategy would ‘recognize that the Afghan people ultimately are going to have to provide for their own security, and so we'll be discussing that process whereby Afghan security forces are properly trained and equipped to do the job.' "

ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" that the president's speech next Tuesday night will probably be outside of the White House, since the president wants an audience.

And the president knows he needs Republicans to back him up on spending: "He's going to lose a majority of votes among House Democrats," Stephanopoulos said.

Rumblings on the left — Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., to The Hill: "An exit strategy to be developed later is not an exit strategy." 

Adding to the heat: "Let me say that there is serious unrest in our caucus about, can we afford this war?" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a conference call with economists Tuesday.

"Politically, raising taxes just months before the 2010 midterm elections would be a very difficult legislative task, particularly with Republicans already criticizing individual Democrats for the mounting national debt," The Washington Post's Paul Kane reports. "But the war tax proposals from top Democrats have served as a marker for the difficulty Obama will have in securing support from Democrats for the expected troop expansion."

"The suggestion that a surtax be used to help fund the increasingly unpopular war, though unlikely to pass, illustrated the fiscal anxieties that the president will face if he asks Congress to write another big-ticket item into the budget," the Los Angeles Times' Janet Hook and Christi Parsons report.

 "The escalating cost in blood and treasure of a war that has already cost America $150 billion and has no clear end in sight is the reason Obama faces a tough sales job when he finally rolls out his Afghan strategy next week after nearly three months of debate," Time's Mark Thompson writes.

Why else the sales job is daunting: "Public approval of President Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan has plummeted, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, amid rising pessimism about the course of the conflict," USA Today's Susan Page writes. "The nation is divided over what to do next: Nearly half of those surveyed endorse deploying thousands of additional U.S. troops, while four in 10 say it's time to begin withdrawing forces."

"Neither he nor his advisers has detailed an exit plan, but the strategy he is expected to describe next week would include specific dates that deployments could be slowed or stopped if necessary, a senior military official said," the AP's Anne Gearan writes.

Is this a strategy you want credit for? Vice President Joe Biden is on the cover of this weekend's New York Times Magazine — "After Cheney," by James Traub.

"In the debate over Afghanistan, [Biden] initially faced a near-consensus in favor of the view advanced by the generals," Traub writes. "McChrystal offered three options, which boiled down to way more troops than he could get (80,000), enough troops (40,000), and failure (10,000 trainers but no new combat troops). Obama encouraged Biden to push the advocates to defend their arguments and justify their assumptions. Biden proceeded to do just that, especially with the brass; he proposed an alternative plan that focused less on defeating the Taliban and more on eliminating Al Qaeda."

Said White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: "People were thinking about certain things, but hadn't expressed them. The vice president was expressing them."

Getting serious on spending — or, at least, wanting to look serious: "The White House is considering a bipartisan commission to tackle the nation's swelling deficit, as it seeks to show resolve on a problem that threatens its broader agenda," The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman and John D. McKi nnon report. "Senior congressional officials said the idea was gaining traction. Two officials said the White House was likely to make its own proposal for a panel, which could have less power than the proposed Conrad-Gregg commission."

Getting crowded: "Raising the U.S. government's $12.2 trillion borrowing limit tops an agenda of must-pass legislation that imperils Senate Democrats' ability to pass a health-care bill this year," Bloomberg's James Rowley and Brian Faler report. "As the senators struggle to meet President Barack Obama's year-end deadline to overhaul the health system, they must also act to keep the government running and prevent a 21 percent drop in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients."

This has time to set in: "Americans could pay billions of dollars more in new taxes for a few years before they're likely to see significant change in the nation's health care system under legislation that Congress is considering," McClatchy's David Lightman reports.

No holiday break from the ad wars. From the release going out Wednesday: "Health Care for America Now (HCAN) – the nation's largest health care campaign – debuted two new television ads today – one in Arkansas and one in Nebraska. The first thanks Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) for voting to allow the Senate to begin debate on health care reform and putting their constituents' needs ahead of the health insurance industry's greed. The second spot points out that it's a Senator's job to debate important legislation, and by voting to block debate last Saturday night, Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) showed he is fighting for the health insurance industry instead of fighting for Nebraskans."

Hold your judgment — but not for long: "The real evaluation of Obama's debut must wait for the results of the two biggest problems he's tackling: his decision on Afghanistan and the congressional attempt to pass health care reform," Time's Joe Klein writes.

Maureen Dowd wants more loyalty: "Although a handful of donors were invited to the premiere state dinner Tuesday night — as well as erstwhile allies Craig and Hillary — many donors and passionate supporters are let down by Obama's detachment, puzzled at his failure to make them feel invested when he's certain to come back to tap their well soon enough," she writes in her New York Times column.

For President Obama on Wednesday — from a state dinner, to a turkey pardon.

"Obama, a former constitutional law professor, will issue a presidential pardon to Courage, a 20 week old, 45-lb turkey from Princeton, N.C.," ABC's Karen Travers writes. "Each year over 45 million turkeys end up on Thanksgiving dinner tabled across the United States, according to the National Turkey Federation. And every year since 1947, according to historians, one lucky bird has been spared that fate due to a presidential pardon. If for some reason Courage the Turkey cannot live up to his ‘official duties' (which essentially consist of sitting there and not biting President Obama), an alternate, Carolina, will step in."

The White House preview video is worth the click: "Tomorrow, one turkey gets a second chance…"

Checking in on the GOP, in Texas: "A Texas-sized brawl is under way between [Sen. Kay Bailey] Hutchison and [Gov. Rick] Perry in a GOP primary race that's pitting the public's anger at Washington against its anti-incumbent fervor," the AP's Liz Sidoti writes. "The March primary is shaping up to be a test of sorts for the 2010 midterm elections nationwide, when Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates of all political stripes will face an electorate that's sour on both current lawmakers and the federal government."

Before we get to Dobbs for president — Dobbs for Senate? "I think Lou is realistically saying, that's a long way off, but if he did run for office there'd have to be an intermediary step, such as the Menendez seat" in New Jersey, which is up in 2012, Dobbs spokesman Robert L. Dilenschneider tells The New York Times' David M. Halbfinger.

New blogger on the block: Dan Pfeiffer, incoming White House communications director. ABC's Jake Tapper finds some highlights, and welcomes him to the game: "The point of Pfeiffer's blog is to be something like the electronic version of when White House press secretary Robert Gibbs uses the daily briefing to make a point about a specific issue."

The Kicker:

"I hope he's more accurate about the bill than he is about me." — David Broder, responding to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's description of him on the Senate floor as "a man who has been retired for many years and writes a column once in a while."

The Note morning analysis won't publish again until Monday, Nov. 30. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note's blog . . . all day every day:

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