8 a.m. ET: Two weeks ago, David Obey warned that the war in Afghanistan might "devour" President Obama's policy agenda, turning into "a problem that nobody knows how to get out of.” Yesterday, the House Appropriations chairman unveiled a $94 billion supplemental bill to pay for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and funnel economic aid to rapidly deteriorating Pakistan. The measure has funding for other purposes as well, but the "Af-Pak" region -- where Obey said yesterday he was "very dubious" of U.S. prospects for success -- is the bill's primary focus, and "Mr. Obama's war" may well become the primary focus of the president's first term.
Today's Washington Post front page says Taliban forces "tightened their grip" on a key region of Pakistan Monday. The New York Times front says "the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan barely exists for the Taliban," allowing fighters to roam across it at will. The Economist suggests Pakistan's "squandering of America’s war-on-terror cash has been an open joke" for years. With fears rising that the Taliban could gain access to Pakistan's nuclear materials, American and Pakistani officials are now in talks to have the U.S. play a bigger part in securing Pakistan's nuclear stockpile.
All of which brings us back to that supplemental spending bill now pending before Congress. How many more will there be? The always-outspoken Obey says he'll give Obama a year to deal with the Af-Pak mess, just as he gave Richard Nixon a year to figure out Vietnam when he arrived at the White House. (Yes, Obey has been in Congress a long time, and no, the Obama administration does not want to see more Democrats mention "Afghanistan" and "Vietnam" together.) With many antiwar Democrats all-but-certain to oppose this funding measure because it doesn't include a firm withdrawal timeline for either Iraq or Afghanistan, Obama will be forced to rely on a bipartisan coalition of supporters to get the money he wants. And he can only hope that the situation looks better in a year, when he comes back to the Hill to ask for more.
Obama began lobbying the Senate yesterday, not on the supplemental funding but on confirming his forthcoming nominee to replace David Souter. Orrin Hatch says he expects a pick this week, but no one else in town is predicting such a fast decision. Republicans have decided to give Jeff Sessions their top slot on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he will succeed the party-switching Arlen Specter. You can expect liberals to make sure the media and the public know a lot more about Sessions' controversial past. Some of the reported frontrunners for Souter's post are also getting some close scrutiny now.
And fear not, Sarah Palin fans. The Alaska governor will, in fact, affiliate herself with the save-the-GOP group, National Council for a New America. Does that mean she will actually be active in the group's deliberations? Will she attend the next time it convenes a "policy forum" at a suburban pizza parlor? Not necessarily, but it does mean the media can no longer use this as a hook for those "Palin vs. the national GOP" feud stories.
May 5, 2009; 8:05 AM ET
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