- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2010

AFGHANISTAN

Book: Aides doubt Obama Afghan strategy

President Obama’s top advisers spent much of the past 20 months arguing about policy and turf, according to a new book, with some top members of his national security team doubting the president’s strategy in Afghanistan would work.

The book, “Obama’s Wars,” by journalist Bob Woodward, says Obama aides were deeply divided over the war in Afghanistan even as the president agreed to triple troop levels there. Mr. Obama’s top White House adviser on Afghanistan and his special envoy for the region are described as believing the strategy will not work.

According to the book, Mr. Obama said, “I have two years with the public on this” and pressed advisers for ways to avoid a big escalation in the Afghanistan war.

“I want an exit strategy,” he said at one meeting. Privately, he told Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to push his alternative strategy opposing a big troop buildup in meetings.

While Mr. Obama ultimately rejected the alternative plan, the book says, he set a withdrawal timetable because, “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”

A White House official said Wednesday that the president is accurately portrayed in the book as an analytical, strategic and decisive leader. The official said the book doesn’t reveal anything new about the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, nor should it be a surprise that there was vigorous debate within the administration during the development of that strategy.

TREASURY

Financial-bailout chief announces resignation

Herb Allison, the head of the government’s $700 billion financial-bailout program, announced on Wednesday that he would resign. He is the latest in a series of departures from President Obama’s economic team.

Mr. Allison, who had served as head of the bailout program since April 2009, said in a letter to colleagues at the Treasury Department that they had accomplished a great deal and helped to stabilize the financial system.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program, the formal name for the bailout program that began during President George W. Bush’s administration, has been widely criticized by the public as a rescue for wealthy bankers who took extraordinary risks.

Mr. Allison will be succeeded as head of the program by Tim Massad, 54, who will become acting assistant Treasury secretary for financial stability while the administration looks for a permanent successor.

Before joining government, Mr. Massad had been a partner for 17 years at the New York City law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore.

Mr. Allison’s resignation is the latest departure from the administration’s economic team, which has been under fire from Republicans in Congress and many voters. Peter Orszag, Mr. Obama’s budget director, and Christina Romer, head of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, departed in recent weeks. The White House announced Tuesday that Lawrence H. Summers, the president’s top economist, would leave at the end of this year.

SENATE

Senate GOP keeps Murkowski on panel

In an abrupt reversal, Senate Republicans decided Wednesday to keep Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in her post as top minority member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Republican officials had said that Mrs. Murkowski was likely to be removed from the energy committee as punishment for mounting a write-in bid to try to hold onto her seat, following her defeat in a GOP primary last month.

Instead, lawmakers at a closed-door meeting Wednesday voted to keep Mrs. Murkowski in her energy role. Senators did replace her as vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, installing Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso. Mrs. Murkowski resigned from the party post after losing the GOP primary to “tea party”-supported challenger Joe Miller.

Republican senators declined to explain their vote, but Mrs. Murkowski is well-liked by most members of the GOP caucus. With the legislative session nearly over, there was little reason to unseat her now, said a Senate Republican staffer who asked not to be identified, because his boss did not want him to discuss internal party politics.

Whatever the reason, the action helps Mrs. Murkowski in her write-in bid, although she remains a long shot.

NEW YORK

Paladino closes in on Cuomo in N.Y. race

ALBANY, N.Y. | A poll released Wednesday finds “tea party” Republican Carl Paladino is closing in on front-running Democrat Andrew M. Cuomo in the race for New York governor.

The Quinnipiac University polls showed Mr. Cuomo with a 49 percent to 43 percent lead among likely New York voters. Seven percent were undecided.

“The question was whether Carl Paladino would get a bounce from his big Republican primary victory. The answer is yes,” said Quinnipiac polling Director Maurice Carroll. “He’s within shouting distance and - you can count on it - he will be shouting.”

The poll found Mr. Cuomo, the state’s attorney general, had 54 percent of the support of female voters to 34 percent backing the straight-talking Buffalo developer. Men supported Mr. Palladino by 49 percent to 46 percent.

Mr. Paladino has sought to ride a wave of voter anger at Albany’s high taxes, high spending and string of corruption cases in state government, all of which is controlled by Democrats.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Group hits bowls over tax status

Opponents of how college football crowns its champion say three of the nation’s premier bowls are violating their tax-exempt status by paying excessive salaries and perks, providing “sweetheart loans” and doing undisclosed lobbying.

Playoff PAC plans to file a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service on Thursday against the operators of the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls. They are three of the five games that constitute the Bowl Championship Series. The others are the Rose Bowl and the BCS title game.

Playoff PAC is a political action committee that wants the bowls replaced with a championship playoff system. Officials for the Sugar and Fiesta bowls dismissed the report as a rehash of old complaints. They say they comply with IRS rules.

PENNSYLVANIA

Toomey pulls ahead in Senate race

HARRISBURG, Pa. | Republican former Rep. Pat Toomey is ahead of Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak in a new poll in Pennsylvania’s closely watched race for U.S. Senate.

The Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows Mr. Toomey with 50 percent to Mr. Sestak’s 43 percent among likely voters. Meanwhile, independent voters are breaking heavily for Mr. Toomey, 54 percent to 36 percent.

It’s the Connecticut school’s first survey in the race since July, when it showed both at 43 percent.

In the new poll, 7 percent say they remain undecided.

From staff reports and wire service dispatches.