In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Here's an interesting piece of the Afghanistan-Pakistan plan that President Obama rolled out today: He plans to set up a new special inspector general for Afghanistan and include "robust investments" in his budget to combat corrupt misuse of foreign aid (in the words of deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough).

However, Obama's full budget won't be sent to Congress until April -- just as lawmakers are wrapping up their own spending plans. So any substantial spending on anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan may have to come as part of a supplemental war funding request that the administration sends to the Hill later this spring.

George Stephanopoulos, reading the tea leaves on Obama's strong anti-corruption focus, sees it as a kiss-off to Afghan President Hamid Karzai:

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Wow. Just plain wow. This past Wednesday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) appeared on Sean Hannity's radio show, and sharply reiterated her calls for revolution in America, warning against the imminent dangers of tyranny under Barack Obama:

"We are headed down the lane of economic Marxism," said Bachmann. "More quickly, Sean, than anyone could have possibly imagined. It's difficult for us to even keep up with it day to day."

And then came this:

At this point the American people - it's like Thomas Jefferson said, a revolution every now and then is a good thing. We are at the point, Sean, of revolution. And by that, what I mean, an orderly revolution -- where the people of this country wake up get up and make a decision that this is not going to happen on their watch. It won't be our children and grandchildren that are in debt. It is we who are in debt, we who will be bankrupting this country, inside of ten years, if we don't get a grip. And we can't let the Democrats achieve their ends any longer.

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Democratic lawmakers are warmly greeting President Obama's new plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which won't be formally submitted to Congress but does rely in part on passing two bills that never came to a vote during the Bush administration.

The first bill would establish Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) along the volatile border between the two nations, essentially using free trade to establish a firmer economic footing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Any goods produced in the ROZs could be exported to the U.S. duty-free ... although in this time of steep recession, it's tough to see where the market would be for more imported textiles and apparel.

The second bill Obama called on Congress to pass today is a measure once shepherded by Vice President Joe Biden: a tripling of non-military aid to Pakistan that would send $1.5 billion in annual reconstruction money to the politically unstable nation.

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A new Republican poll, from the firm Wilson Research, shows that Democrats are starting out with the advantage to pick up the Missouri Senate seat of retiring GOPer Kit Bond in 2010.

When matching up presumptive Democratic nominee Robin Carnahan against Rep. Roy Blunt, the former House GOP whip, Carnahan is ahead 47%-43%. Against former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who ran unsuccessfully in the primary for governor last year, Carnahan is up 47%-39%. The margin of error is ±4%.

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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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