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The Rundown

8 a.m. ET: The health-care debate slogs forward in the Senate, reaction to the Afghanistan surge continues and the climate conference in Copenhagen begins this week, but a fourth issue will take political precedence. As Nancy Pelosi put it so eloquently last week: "Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, it is all about jobs."

President Obama will give an economic address Tuesday focused on how his administration and Congress can work together to boost employment. "Among the ideas expected in his economic speech Tuesday is an expanded program that gives people cash incentives to fix up their homes with energy-saving materials," the Associated Press writes. "Obama is leaning toward new incentives for small businesses that hire new workers and new spending on roads, bridges and other public works, the officials said." Robert Gibbs already disclosed Friday that Obama is amenable to using unspent TARP money to pay for a jobs bill, and some newly unveiled math may help pave the way. The Wall Street Journal reports: "The Obama administration, buoyed by a resurgent Wall Street, plans to cut the projected long-term cost of the Troubled Asset Relief Program by more than $200 billion, in a move that could smooth the way for the introduction of a new jobs program." The Washington Post adds that "some of the unallocated money could also be used to demonstrate the administration's commitment to deficit reduction," a purpose for which Tim Geithner has advocated.

With the jobs issue piled on top of all the others, is Obama juggling too much at once? (He's about to pick up a Nobel Prize, and it seems almost like an afterthought.) John Harwood writes: "Ever since Mr. Obama took office, critics of his leadership style have accused him of tackling too many initiatives at once. That blurs the focus of the White House and Congress, they say, and prevents the president from communicating a clear theme about his agenda to ordinary Americans. Now, as Mr. Obama’s approval rating in polls has dwindled to 50 percent or below, that criticism has grown louder." Perhaps he learned how to multitask at the card table. In a cover story, National Journal looks at how Obama's poker-playing history might inform how he tackles key issues as president.

Obama met with Senate Democrats Sunday to talk health-care reform, but "made no mention of a government-run insurance plan, abortion or other key issues that lawmakers are attempting to resolve in closed-door meetings," the Washington Post writes. Yet another public option compromise may be in the offing, as Harry Reid asked a group of centrist senators to continue trying to find consensus. "Under a leading proposal, the federal Office of Personnel Management would negotiate with insurers to offer one or more national health plans to individuals, families and small businesses," the New York Times writes. "The personnel office has decades of experience arranging health benefits for federal employees, including members of Congress."

On tap this week: A debate over restrictions on federal funding for abortion. There may not be a compromise on abortion that's acceptable to both sides, the Wall Street Journal reports, and "the lack of a clear meeting point makes abortion somewhat different from" the public option debate. Kaiser Health News provides a snapshot of the key remaining issues to be settled in the Senate: the public option, abortion, cost containment and affordability. The Hill looks at the Senate schedule, writing that lawmakers expect to work right through Christmas and may have to come back in session between Christmas and New Year's.

One of the chief architects of health-care reform, Max Baucus, has been a bit preoccupied since word broke Friday night that he had submitted the name of his girlfriend for consideration as U.S. Attorney from Montana. Roll Call writes that Baucus "said Saturday that Democratic and Republican Senators alike have offered him words of encouragement," though the Republican National Committee has called for an ethics investigation and an official complaint with the Senate Ethics panel is likely to be filed. The Wall Street Journal notes that Baucus never notified the White House, Jon Tester or many others involved in the selection process about his personal conflict. Across the aisle, The Los Angeles Times checks in with John McCain, writing that the former presidential nominee has reemerged as a chief Obama critic health care and Afghanistan.

On the latter subject, Robert Gates made a point Sunday of downplaying talk of an exit strategy, as "he forecast that only a 'handful' of U.S. troops may leave the country in July 2011, when a withdrawal is due to begin," the Los Angeles Times writes. For all the focus on how Obama chose to modify Stanley McChrystal's war plan, the Washington Post writes "the new approach does not order McChrystal to wage the war in a fundamentally different way from what he outlined in an assessment he sent the White House in late August." McChrystal will testify on Capitol Hill this week, and with him comes a question, Politico reports: "Who’s really in charge here, the generals or" Obama? The paper adds that "top Democrats fear that unless Obama is more assertive, the military chain of command will undermine his July 2011 target to begin some U.S. withdrawal." Along with the troop buildup, McClatchy writes that "veterans advocates say the government must develop a better plan to handle the wounded when they come home."

By Ben Pershing  |  December 7, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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