In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Congressional Democrats are hailing President Obama's plan, announced today, to send 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan and set goals for fighting extremist groups entrenched along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The Democratic reaction boils down to a single sentiment: After spending seven years decrying George W. Bush's lack of focus on the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Obama's party is thrilled to see him focus on what it asserts is the "central front of the war on terror."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put it simply:

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Earlier this week, we flagged a solicitation letter Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent to colleagues seeking their support for an inquiry into the AIG counterparty payments.

That effort has, as planned, resulted in a different letter, this one to Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the TARP. "We would like to know if the A.I.G. counterparty payments, as made, were in the best interests of the taxpayers who provided the funding," the letter says. According to the New York Times, Cummings got 26 members of the House to sign this letter--every one of them Democrats.

The absence of Republican signatories (or at least one particular Republican signatory) is a little bit curious. Cummings wants to know who made the decision to pay off in full AIG's biggest trading partners, and he ought to have an unlikely bedfellow in Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), the ranking member on the House Financial Services committee. As we reported yesterday, Bachus wants the answer to a very related question: Were those partners paid off in full at the expense of smaller partners who are allegedly being asked to take a 70 percent hit on loans they made to AIG subsidiaries.

Now this is big news. The new Siena poll out this morning, testing the special election this Tuesday for Kirsten Gillibrand's old House seat, shows Democratic candidate Scott Murphy ahead of Republican Jim Tedisco by 47%-43% -- the first public poll to put the Dem ahead, though his lead is still within the ±3.2% margin of error.

A poll from two weeks ago showed that Murphy was already closing the gap, trailing at the time by 45%-41%, after a poll two weeks before that had given Tedisco an even wider lead of 46%-34%.

The poll from two weeks ago showed Murphy achieving a huge turnaround among independents, and taking a six-point lead. But now this week's poll gives Tedisco a one-point edge among independents -- but Murphy's Democratic support has gone up from 72% to 84%, and Tedisco's Dem crossover support has fallen from 17% to 11%, and he even gets 27% of Republicans.

Murphy's road from 12 points down to four points up can be traced to a few things. First of all, he is a first-time candidate who started out with no name recognition, going up against the well-known state Assembly minority leader. Next, Murphy has consistently built up his own brand by tying himself in with President Obama and the stimulus plan. And now the White House itself has gotten involved through a public endorsement by Obama, a radio ad starring Joe Biden, and a new DNC ad reminding voters about the Obama endorsement.

The House GOP's non-budget budget may have riven senior members of the GOP caucus, but it has united House Democrats and the Obama administration, who have each distributed a set of talking points to their respective members about the thin (though shiny!) document.

The House Dem's memo, like the budget it mocks, is sleek and well produced. It notes that "[w]hile Republicans expended a great deal of effort to make their budget document look just like President Obama's, it was missing something rather important: Number...or any substance at all."

The White House's memo, while slightly more substantive, hits at many of the same themes: "The plan they released today is a rerun of the same failed policies that got our country into this deep financial and economic crisis: massive tax cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy, huge subsidies to big oil and gas companies, and no plan to bring down the costs of health care."

Both documents refer to the GOP as "the party of no" and "no new ideas".

It's probably important to remember that President Obama was practically begging his congressional nemeses to put out a budget or budgets of their own. Now he has a risible alternative to point to when critics or members of the media blanch at the big numbers in his own budget proposal, and the modifications to it released by congressional Democrats earlier this week.

Obama Announcing New Strategy Against Al-Qaeda In Afghanistan President Obama will be rolling out the new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan today, involving the deployment of another 4,000 military advisers to Afghanistan to help train the Afghan army, and an increase in spending of 60 percent from the current $2 billion per month rate. New benchmarks will also be imposed on the Afghan government, with Obama reportedly telling Congressional leaders: "The era of the blank check is over."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will be speaking from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at 9:25 a.m. ET, delivering remarks about the new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. At 10:25 a.m., he will speak at the installation ceremony of Attorney General Eric Holder at George Washington University. At 12 p.m. ET, he will meet with a group of leaders from financial institutions. At 6 p.m., he will depart from the White House, headed for Camp David.

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The Democratic National Committee has released this new ad in the highly contentious special election this Tuesday for Kirsten Gillibrand's old House seat, reminding voters that President Obama has endorsed Dem candidate Scott Murphy:



This campaign has seen some clear themes emerge in the last week and a half. Tedisco has taken the somewhat novel path of of being a Republican running a populist campaign against his Democratic opponent, a businessman, and accusing him of supporting the AIG bonuses. Meanwhile, the Democrat has attached his own brand to the very popular president, and points out at every turn that he has endorsed the stimulus plan, while his opponent has said he would have voted against it.

We've also seen the White House putting its own reputation on the line today -- first with a radio ad starring Joe Biden, and now with this DNC ad featuring the president's image.

As I reported earlier, at today's House Financial Services hearing, Spencer Bachus (R-AL), the committee's ranking member, made an interesting allegation. He suggested that, though AIG had spent billions of dollars in bailout money to make its major counterparties whole, some smaller institutions (including U.S. banks) had been asked to accept 20 or 30 cents on the dollar for secured loans they'd made to AIG subsidiaries.

This obviously raises several questions. For instance: Which institutions got stiffed? Why were they asked to take a hit when bigger institutions never were? What was the nature of the loans they made? Unfortunately, these turn out to be difficult questions to answer.

What we do know is this: Before today's hearing, Bachus sent letters both to Barney Frank and to Timothy Geithner about this very issue. I've gotten a hold of the former letter, but haven't yet been able to get my hands on the latter.

You can read the whole letter to Frank here, but the key paragraph reads:

I have been informed that, in contrast with its treatment of foreign banks, AIG is now attempting to force many of its creditors that are U.S. banks to accept severe reductions in the debt owed to them. I am told in some cases that these U.S. banks are being asked to accept reductions of over 70% of the debt owed to them.


Which is basically what Bachus said at the hearing. It's also fairly unspecific. The other letter allegedly contains more detail. But, perhaps because of that, nobody's being all that forthcoming with it. At least not yet.

We'll try to get a hold of it, but until then we'll keep our eye on what Bachus and the committee minority have to say publicly about the matter.

Jim Tedisco, the Republican candidate in this Tuesday's special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's old House seat, appears to be going positive with this new ad in the home stretch:



The ad has inspiring music, nice visuals, a message of change, and praise of the candidate -- and no mention of his opponent, Democrat Scott Murphy.

This comes right after several days of some pretty rough attack ads, some from Tedisco's campaign itself and some from the NRCC, plus Murphy and the DCCC. But in the final days of the campaign, a positive appeal can be a good thing -- first you poison the public against your opponent, and then you come in as the guy people can trust.

A new Research 2000 poll gives Chris Dodd a five-point lead, 45%-40% over former Rep. Rob Simmons -- a somewhat surprising result, given the current media coverage over the AIG bonuses, and Dodd's role in putting in the loophole that restricted executive pay but didn't make it retroactive.

A Quinnipiac poll from two weeks ago, before the bonuses ever became an issue, gave Simmons a one-point edge of 43%-42%. Granted, we are in apples-and-oranges territory when reviewing polls from different outfits, but one would have expected worse numbers for Dodd after the AIG story broke.

Of course, Dodd is helped by the fact that he's in a state that in recent years has voted Democratic for everything except the governorship (plus a recent Senate win by the Connecticut for Lieberman Party). So it's not a bad field for him to be playing on.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs had some fun with the House Republicans' detail-free budget alternative during his on-camera briefing with reporters today:



QUESTION: ... House Republicans unveiled what they described today as their alternative to the president's budget. I wonder if anyone here has had a chance to brief you on that on -- if you're aware that it doesn't actually contain any numbers.

GIBBS: I did -- I -- it took me several minutes to read it. (LAUGHTER) I will note that ... there's one more picture of a windmill than there is of a chart of numbers. There's -- just for your knowledge, there's exactly one picture of a windmill.

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