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Strategy Memo: Merging Of The Bills

President Obama will hold a morning meeting with his war council as the White House closes in on a final Afghanistan strategy announcement. Vice President Biden will join that meeting after a sit-down with General David Petraeus. Later today, Obama heads to Virginia with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to tour a project using stimulus dollars. Back at the White House, Obama will then sign an executive order reinstating a commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and observe the Diwali "Festival of Lights" in the East Room. Tonight, he'll attend a fundraiser benefiting the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

Following the Senate Finance Committee's 14-9 approval yesterday of the Baucus health care bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will lead a group including Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and White House reps in merging the Finance and HELP committee bills. The group meets today for the first time.

Reid will also testify this morning at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on legislation he co-sponsored with Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that would repeal a federal antitrust exemption for health insurance and medical malpractice insurance companies. Consideration of the Energy & Water Appropriations bill will begin today on the Senate floor.

The House Financial Services Committee is beginning its push today as part of Obama's efforts to regulate the financial institutions that caused last year's economic collapse. On the floor, the House will vote on as many as 19 suspension bills, including one "recognizing the 40th anniversary of the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas."

**President Obama
*AP reports that Gen. Stanley McChrystal "is asking for up to 80,000 more American troops even as he warns that rampant government corruption there may prevent victory against the Taliban and al-Qaida, according to U.S. officials briefed on his conclusions."

"From the moment they took office," VP Biden has been Obama's "in-house pessimist on Afghanistan," the New York Times reports. "It was a role that may have been lonely at first, but has attracted more company inside the White House as Mr. Obama rethinks the strategy he unveiled just seven months ago."

Politico reports that Sen. Dan Inouye seemed to "fully embrace" the McChrystal recommendations. Chair of the Appropriations Committee "who personally manages the annual defense appropriations bill, has been openly skeptical of what can be accomplished with military might in Afghanistan. To this degree, his new statement marks a change and a more determined tone to press ahead."

*Reuters: "Obama remains committed to ending 'unfair loopholes' and tax breaks for international corporations, but congressional tax writers and others doubt that will happen without broader reforms, such as cutting the top corporate tax rate."

*Washington Post profiles the chaplain Camp David's chapel, where Obama has frequently worshiped since becoming president.

*The White House has announced that Biden will hold a recovery act event in Reno, Nevada, on Friday, a trip that will also include a fundraiser for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

**Congress
*The Baucus Bill passed through committe on a 14-9 vote yesterday. "The package would spend $829 billion over the next decade to finance the biggest expansion of Medicaid in 40 years and to provide federal subsidies to 18 million people who otherwise would be unable to afford coverage. It would tax high-cost health plans, impose new penalties on employers and slash future spending on Medicare, the federal insurance plan for people older than 65," Washington Post reports.

*Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the only Republican to support the Baucus bill, said this morning on CBS' 'The Early Show' that "she could foresee a government-run plan that would 'kick in' if private insurers fail to live up to expectations. Snowe emphasized that she still opposes the so-called public option, but said she also believes the private insurance market must yield a system in which health coverage becomes more widely accessible and affordable," AP reports.

*Now comes the merging of the HELP and Finance committees' bills. "Mr. Reid will gather the group in his office on the second floor of the Capitol for its first official meeting on Wednesday. The group includes Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and the Finance Committee chairman; Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, who was acting chairman of the HELP committee when it passed its health care bill; and representatives of the White House," New York Times reports.

*Wall Street Journal identifies six senators to watch in the next phase of health care negotiations: Snowe, Susan Collins, Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, and Roland Burris, called a "wild card."

*"Up first," in the House Financial Services Committee's effort to go after those that caused last year's economic collapse, "is a measure that for the first time would regulate privately sold derivatives like credit default swaps, the complex contracts that brought down Wall Street banking house Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and nearly toppled insurance giant" AIG, AP reports.

*The strains of the ongoing House ethics committee probe into Rangel's finances -- coupled with escalating attacks by the GOP -- are wearing on the 79-year-old Korean War hero, people close to him say. And some of Rangel's friends and colleagues are starting to worry," Politico reports.

**Fundraising
*Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulls in $2 million, the Review-Journal notes. He has $8.7 million in cash on hand. Danny Tarkanian, one potential rival, raised $271,331.

*CT Sen: Linda McMahon (R) spent $2.05 million and has $1.45 million cash on hand. She loaned $3 million to the campaign and made $496,000 in in-kind contributions.

Rob Simmons (R), another Dodd challenger, raised $970,000.

*SC Gov: Nikki Haley, a former ally of Gov. Mark Sanford, "underperformed" in the most recent fundraising period, as did Democrat Jim Rex. Haley raised nearly $148,000 and has $273,000 on hand, "badly trailing" rivals Rep. Gresham Barrett and state Attorney General Henry McMaster, The State reports.

*Politico reports, that NY-23 GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava "is running dangerously low on campaign cash, according to several GOP sources familiar with her spending and fundraising. ... Scozzafava supporters blame her cash crunch on the Washington Republican establishment, which they contend has not embraced her campaign enthusiastically. They specifically point to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, whose committee has been virtually absent from the race and hasn't yet donated any money, with just weeks to go before the Nov. 3 special election."

**Campaign Stuff
*Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.), who announced his own health care proposals Tuesday, compared the government to GM at an event last night, the Star Tribune reports. "The history of GM is an instructive story in how success can breed failure; how being the biggest and the best can lead to arrogance and an inability to adapt. ... Does any of that sound familiar as it relates to public policy in the United States of America in the year 2009? Are there any parallels to be drawn from the decision-making that you have seen in Washington, DC, not just now but over the last several decades regardless of which party has been in power?"

*Gov. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) says that if John Ensign resigns, he would not appoint his top potential rival for re-election, Brian Sandoval, to the seat. Nor would he appoint himself, he tells the Las Vegas Review Journal. Meanwhile, Democrat Rory Reid kicked off his campaign with a focus on policy.

*More embarrassing revelations in Kentucky for Democrats, per the Herald-Leader. Senate candidate and Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo said on an audio recording that his relationship with Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is like "being married to a whore. What can you do?"

*Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison still is no closer to resigning to pursue her gubernatorial bid full time. Per Politico, she told a Texas radio station: "I want to stay and fight with every bone in my body against a government takeover of health care."

*In a New York mayoral debate last night, Democrat Bill Thompson accused Mayor Michael Bloomberg of buying support.

**Sports Alert: Happy 99th Birthday to John Wooden, the famed UCLA basketball coach who won 10 national championships in 12 years.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli