8 a.m. ET: Fairly or not, President Obama has in the past been dubbed the "compromiser-in-chief" because of his inclination toward the middle ground. That may well be where he's headed on Afghanistan.
At a meeting Tuesday with congressional leaders from both parties, the Los Angeles Times reports, "Obama did not indicate to the bipartisan group whether he is leaning toward or against a significant troop escalation. Instead, he suggested he is looking at the middle range of the spectrum, somewhere between a major increase in forces and a large drawdown." The New York Times says Obama told lawmakers "that he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there, but he indicated that he remained undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general." And, the Times adds, Obama had a "pointed exchange" with John McCain over the pace of his decision-making, while Nancy Pelosi, Carl Levin and David Obey "voiced reservations" about a troop increase. (Sarah Palin, who was not at the White House Tuesday, thinks we should send more troops.)
After the meeting, the Washington Post writes, "Democrats questioned whether the Afghan government remains a viable political partner after the flawed Aug. 20 presidential election, and Republicans challenged the administration's determination to defeat the Taliban." As for reported tensions with Stanley McChrystal, Carl Levin said after the gathering that Obama had voiced words of support for the U.S. commander and "there's no rift" between the general and the White House. William Galston reminds fellow liberals that they complained when the Bush administration "muzzled" Eric Shinseki, so they shouldn't want Obama to do the same with another blunt-spoken general now. Laura Rozen profiles James Jones, "a crucial player in asserting Obama's authority over the military and in giving the president breathing room as he considers the force increase McChrystal has publicly advocated."
Taking a step back, the Wall Street Journal reports that the overall debate on Afghan strategy is encapsulized in two very different books being read at the White House and the Pentagon -- "Lessons in Disaster" and "A Better War" (versions of the two tomes currently occupy the top four slots in Amazon sales rankings for books on Vietnam). But Peter Beinart writes that analogies between the two wars are misleading: "In Vietnam, we lost because the war was unwinnable from the start. In Afghanistan, we had a grateful population, an unpopular enemy and a just cause, and we frittered it away. Afghanistan isn’t Vietnam; it’s worse."
The White House has better news on the health-care front. Under the headline, "AP Poll: Health care overhaul has a pulse," the Associated Press writes: "The fever has broken. The patient is out of intensive care. But if you're President Barack Obama, you can't stop pacing the waiting room. Health care overhaul is still in guarded condition." The new AP-GfK survey found the public split 40-40 on Obama's reform plans, "a sharp improvement from September, when 49 percent of Americans said they opposed the congressional proposals and just 34 percent supported them." Most importantly, "opposition among older Americans dropped 16 percentage points."
The administration has now shifted into bipartisan mode -- sort of. Obama hasn't had much luck attracting Republicans on Capitol Hill to his reform proposals (other than, possibly, Olympia Snowe), but he has been able to score the backing of some key members of the opposition off the Hill. "The White House is orchestrating a series of endorsements from GOP heavyweights around the country," the Washington Post writes, though some in the party might grumble that at least a few of the endorsements are from RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Bloomberg.
The New York Times examines the concerns of Snowe and three Democrats -- Jay Rockefeller, Blanche Lincoln and Ron Wyden -- whose support is crucial to moving reform forward. Roll Call also writes on Wyden, whose criticism has frustrated Democratic leaders. USA Today covers the groups that have made out well so far in the reform discussion, including hospitals, clinical labs and coal miners. Peter Suderman argues that many of the reforms being discussed in Congress have already been tried in the states, and "the results have been dramatically increased premiums in the individual market, spiraling public health-care costs, and reduced access to care. In other words: The reforms have failed."
October 7, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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