Opportunity Costs: A Week to Determine a Year's Success

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports:

On Afghanistan, all President Obama has to do is explain why doing more now will ultimately cost less. On health care, all he has to explain is why doing less now would ultimately cost more. And on jobs, all he has to explain is how what’s already been done is exactly right -- up until the moment that it’s time to do more, so long as it costs less. (Did we mention the costs?) It might be hard to discern a message in the best of circumstances with this political environment, given the mix of storylines the White House is looking to push. Even for a multitasking president, the mix of things that need to get done by the end of 2009 is less than ideal. Suddenly, the success of the president’s first year in office comes down to a month -- or maybe even a week. "This is a momentous week within a momentous year," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel tells The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny. Writes Zeleny: "The health care debate and a new strategy for Afghanistan are coming to the fore at the same point, placing considerable strains on the White House as the president enters the final month of his first year in office. ... The White House, which has adjusted to juggling major initiatives and a multitude of crises, is deploying separate teams to guide the Afghanistan and health care debates in Congress." Remember the argument over whether President Obama was doing too much too quickly? How much of it actually got done? "A cascade of events this week, involving high-profile topics from Afghanistan to health care to jobs, is challenging the Obama White House's strategy of launching so many initiatives so fast in its first year," Jonathan Weisman writes in The Wall Street Journal. "The convergence of critical decisions leaves the White House open to criticism that Mr. Obama tried to do too much, too fast, and now can't devote his attention to getting the deals done." For starters: the way out of Afghanistan starts with a new deployment of US troops -- in a battle the public has grown weary of. "It will be a critical test of his skills as a communicator, a must-have tool of leadership that will help determine the fate of his presidency," McClatchy’s Steven Thomma reports. "It's a test he hasn't always passed." Finishing the job? "He needs to explain to a war-weary American people just what that job is," ABC’s Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Monday. Also key, per Tapper: outlining an exit strategy, explaining NATO’s role, and the message to the Afghan government. Timeframes: "President Obama plans to lay out a time frame for winding down the American involvement in the war in Afghanistan when he announces his decision this week to send more forces, senior administration officials said Sunday," Peter Baker, Eric Schmitt, and David E. Sanger write in The New York Times. "The officials would not disclose the time frame. But they said it would not be tied to particular conditions on the ground nor would it be as firm as the current schedule for withdrawing troops in Iraq, where Mr. Obama has committed to withdrawing most combat units by August and all forces by the end of 2011." How plans involving Pakistan fit in: "President Obama has offered Pakistan an expanded strategic partnership, including additional military and economic cooperation, while warning with unusual bluntness that its use of insurgent groups to pursue policy goals ‘cannot continue,’ " Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post. For a president who has built his image around contrasts to President Bush -- plenty of similarities, all of a sudden: "President Obama will attempt to persuade the American public this week that more time, troops and money will accomplish what eight years of effort and every outside power in history have failed to achieve -- a measure of military success in Afghanistan," Matthew Mosk writes in the Washington Times. A rhetorical switch: "As they prepare to roll out a new Afghanistan policy to a skeptical U.S. audience, Obama administration officials are starting to replace their grim public assessments of the battered country with praise for the skills and idealism of its officials and its progress in important areas," Paul Richter writes for the Los Angeles Times. Tough sell on the Hill: "The Obama administration has soured on a call from its top commander to double the size of the Afghan police and army, reflecting the White House's continued skepticism about the Afghan government even as the U.S. prepares a surge of troops into the country," The Wall Street Journal’s Yochi J. Dreazen and Michael M. Phillips report. "The administration now favors an alternative plan that would seek to build a larger Afghan security force, but one that would be considerably smaller than what Gen. McChrystal had wanted." Among the skeptics: "The key here is an Afghan surge, not an American surge," said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., per the AP’s Richard Lardner. "We cannot, by ourselves, win [the] war." "I have a real problem supporting 30,000 or 40,000 more troops and $100 billion more a year for that war on top of what we're spending in Iraq," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on ABC’s "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." Sen. Paul Kirk, D-Mass., in a Boston Globe op-ed: "We should not send a single additional dollar in aid or add a single American serviceman or woman to the 68,000 already courageously deployed in Afghanistan until we see a meaningful move by the Karzai regime to root out its corruption, assemble a more representative coalition government, and demonstrate some measure of transparency and accountability under the rule of law." Then there are the pay-fors: "President Obama is under increasing pressure to explain how his administration intends to pay the rising costs of military operations in Afghanistan, which average about $3.6 billion per month," The Boston Globe’s Farah Stockman reports. "Many Democrats continued to express misgivings about deepening the US commitment in Afghanistan, with some arguing that if more troops must be sent overseas, the administration should be forced to levy a special war tax to pay for them." After one final meeting of his national security team Sunday, a taste of Afghanistan on the president’s schedule Monday: He meets with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia in the Oval Office "to discuss a range of issues including Afghanistan and climate change in the run-up to Copenhagen." This week starts formal debate on the Senate health care bill -- with none of the dynamics significantly different than they we’ve expected all along. Leading off discussion, an oldie but a goodie: "As the long battle over health care is rejoined in the Senate this week, experts remain deeply divided over whether the legislation would rein in soaring health-care costs or simply add millions of people to a system that is already driving the nation toward bankruptcy," Lori Montgomery writes in The Washington Post. "The measure would not deliver on Democrats' most ambitious claims, the CBO found. While the package would not worsen the nation's record deficits, it would not significantly improve them, either now or in the future." Vice President Joe Biden is up with a new video making the case for reform, with doctors and nurses. Says Biden: "Do you trust the defenders of the status quo -- the people who say you’d be better off if you left things the way they are? Or would you rather hear from the folks who actually know something about what’s happening in the health care system, because they work in it every day?" On the floor -- and just off of it: "The next phase in the Democrats’ health care push will be waged in the privacy of the Senate leadership office, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will attempt to do something that has eluded him all year: negotiate a compromise on the public insurance option that can garner 60 votes and win over a public still leery of reform," Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown reports. "The debate starts at 3 p.m. Monday with each side offering one amendment -- a sign of how difficult the debate will be, since the two sides couldn’t agree to terms of the debate beyond the first two amendments." Amendments, and amendments... "Complicating the situation, lawmakers from both parties are planning to introduce dozens of amendments, addressing issues from a government-run health-care plan to medical malpractice lawsuits to abortion and taxes. The aim isn't just to shape the bill but also to make political points," Naftali Bendavid writes in The Wall Street Journal. Bloomberg’s Al Hunt, on the pressures facing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.: "The danger is this may take time and he doesn’t have much, probably not beyond Christmas," Hunt writes. "If the Senate passes a bill in the next three and a half weeks it may be possible to craft a compromise with the House version in early January and send a bill to the president. If the Senate doesn’t act in this time frame, the odds against jumpstarting a measure in January are long." As we get there... "Now his political strategy is being vindicated," Slate’s Jacob Weisberg writes. "The bill he signs may be flawed in any number of ways -- weak on cost control, too tied to the employer-based system, and inadequate in terms of consumer choice. But given the vastness of the enterprise and the political obstacles, passing an imperfect behemoth and improving it later is probably the only way to succeed where his predecessors failed." Kicking off a jobs week: The White House is opening up its Thursday jobs forum with "community discussions" it’s hoping will be organized locally. From the White House blog posting going up Monday morning: "Today we’re announcing nation-wide community job forums from 11/30 through 12/13. These discussions, among neighbors, co-workers and friends, will be a source of insights and ideas that will inform the President’s approach to job creation. Through WhiteHouse.gov, hosts will upload the results of their discussions. Back here at the White House, we’ll compile the feedback into a report that will be sent to the Oval Office for review." Among the jobs -- corralling the ideas: "As Democrats renew their push to create jobs, they are at odds over the timing, cost and scope of additional measures, with the White House’s concern about high budget deficits pitted against the eagerness of many in Congress to spur hiring before next year’s elections," Jackie Calmes reports in The New York Times. "While the political rationale for additional government action is clear, it is an open question whether it would have any substantial economic effect. Still, the impetus for the activity will be underscored on Friday when the government releases figures for job losses and the unemployment rate for November." Not afraid of the S-word: "The federal government could provide jobs by ... providing jobs. It’s time for at least a small-scale version of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, one that would offer relatively low-paying (but much better than nothing) public-service employment," Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times column. "All of this would cost money, probably several hundred billion dollars, and raise the budget deficit in the short run. But this has to be weighed against the high cost of inaction in the face of a social and economic emergency." From the jobs in phantom congressional districts, to the phantom jobs in places where real spending took place: "Congressional investigators at the Government Accountability Office are suspicious of more than 9,000 reports that don't list any jobs created despite spending totaling $965 million," USA Today’s Matt Kelley reports, in advance of a Tuesday hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Also on the White House docket Monday: "At 2:30 PM EST, Senior Administration Officials will deliver remarks to highlight the efforts of the Obama Administration on HIV/AIDS issues. The event, which occurs on the eve of World AIDS Day, will include participation by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Ambassador Eric P. Goosby, MD, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. The event will also be streamed online at www.whitehouse.gov/live." A twist on the White House party-crashers story: "The White House staff member whose job was to supervise the guest list for state dinners and clear invitees into the events says she was stripped of most of her responsibilities earlier this year, prompting her to resign last June," Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reports. "The account of Cathy Hargraves, who formerly served as White House ‘assistant for arrangements,’ raises new questions about whether changes that she says were made by President Obama's social secretary, Desiree Rogers, may have contributed to the security lapses that permitted Virginia socialites Michele and Tareq Salahi to crash the state dinner for India's prime minister last week and get themselves photographed with the president." This doesn’t work at the motor vehicle office, but it worked at the White House? "A source who had spoken to senior Secret Service officials said the Salahis were allowed inside in violation of agency policies by an officer outside the front gate who apparently was persuaded by the couple's manner and insistence as well as the pressure of keeping lines moving on a rainy evening," Michael D. Shear and Spencer S. Hsu report in The Washington Post. ABC’s Pierre Thomas reported on "GMA" that they made it through the first round of screening with agents there thinking their names would be checked at the next checkpoint. The investigation: "As part of a broadening inquiry into presidential security, Secret Service agents have interviewed the Virginia couple who sneaked into a White House state dinner last week, a senior federal official involved in the investigation said Sunday," Matthew L. Wald and Eric Schmitt report in The New York Times. Mike Huckabee in the news -- far from home: "Maurice Clemmons, the 37-year-old man wanted for questioning in the killing of four Lakewood police officers Sunday morning, has a long criminal record punctuated by violence, erratic behavior and concerns about his mental health," per The Seattle Times. "Mike Huckabee, while governor of Arkansas, granted clemency to Clemmons nine years ago, commuting his lengthy prison sentence over the protests of prosecutors." Statement from Huckabee: "The senseless and savage execution of police officers in Washington State has saddened the nation, and early reports indicate that a person of interest is a repeat offender who once lived in Arkansas and was wanted on outstanding warrants here and Washington State. The murder of any individual is a profound tragedy, but the murder of a police officer is the worst of all murders in that it is an assault on every citizen and the laws we live within." More Huckabee: "Should he be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State." (Flashback to the campaign -- ABC’s Jake Tapper reported on Huckabee’s extensive use of pardons as governor.) Leader of the pack -- Sarah Palin tops a list of GOP presidential contenders in a new Washington Post poll: "Overall, 18 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents cited her as the person most representative of the party's core values, the highest percentage among prominent Republican figures. Among those who regularly listen to Limbaugh, however, Palin was cited by 48 percent, and among Beck's viewers, it was 35 percent, far surpassing others." In Massachusetts -- big endorsements, for everybody but the frontrunner. Former Gov. Mike Dukakis, D-Mass., backs Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass.: "We lost an extraordinary public servant when we lost Ted Kennedy," Dukakis said. "Filling his shoes in the United States Senate will take somebody who has many of his special qualities -- a deep commitment to the welfare of ordinary Americans; the courage of his convictions; and at the same time the political skills to craft solutions to our problems that can work and win the support they need in the Congress of the United States." The Boston Globe goes with Alan Khazei: "With high hopes, the Globe endorses Alan Khazei, the prime mover behind national-service policies, as Massachusetts’ best chance to produce another great senator. The 48-year-old Khazei offers a strong vision for success in the Senate, channeling the energy of activist groups and private-sector policy incubators while dedicating himself to the laborious task of building legislative coalitions." The Kicker: "The problem is that you can have the best policy in the world, but if you don't have the tools to implement it, it isn't worth a beanbag." -- House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., to CNN. "I would have been at seven out of 10." -- Dede Scozzafava, former GOP House candidate, to CBS, on the proposed Republican "purity test" she says she would have passed. For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day: http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/