Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Hunkered down

In all the words said over at the White House today about the Afghanistan review, one name was not mentioned — Osama bin Laden.

The al Qaeda leader, who former President George W. Bush once declared wanted dead or alive, has eluded a manhunt and grown nearly 10 years older since the Sept. 11 attacks.

USA-AFGHANISTAN/Bin Laden was last heard in an audio message aired on Al Jazeera television on Oct. 27 railing against France, and his freedom remains a symbol of how difficult it will be to declare victory against al Qaeda.

Security officials suspect he is in the border region of Afghanistan-Pakistan, but if they knew for sure where he was, they would have found him.

President Barack Obama said the reason why U.S. forces remain in Afghanistan is 9/11, and the core goal is “disrupting, dismantling and defeating” al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

from Summit Notebook:

Senator Lamar Alexander tickles the ivories

SUMMIT-WASHINGTON/ALEXANDERIn the run up to the Nov. 2 mid-term election, senior Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander has more to worry about than just the results of the vote.

Just three days before the election, Alexander has a date on center stage to play the piano with the Jackson Symphony in Jackson, Tennessee.

"I try to keep a balanced life," the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference told the Reuters Washington Summit. "I even get to play the piano some, though not as much as I'd like to."

Pigs rolled out to protest government spending as Tax Day approaches

With the April 15 tax day right around the corner, the taxpayer watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste rolled out a couple of pigs to press their case against $19.6 billion in lawmakers’ pet projects for the 2009 fiscal year, calling them “re-election currency.”

While the pigs Dudley and Minnie snorted around the luxurious National Press Club (better digs than they’re probably used to), the organization rolled out its annual “Pig Book” decrying the projects as pork-barrel government spending that did not get proper or public scrutiny or vetting by Congress.

“Pork has been used by both parties as re-election currency,” said David Williams, vice president of policy at the Citizens Against Government Waste. “There is no moral high ground here when it comes to pork-barrel spending because most of Congress partakes in this process.”

The First Draft: what about the pork?

So the Democratic-controlled Congress finally sent President Barack Obama a $410 billion bill to fund the government through the rest of the year. But it’s full of “earmarks” — billions of dollars earmarked for lawmakers’ pet projects.ROMANIA/

Obama has repeatedly criticized Congress for including the so called “earmarks” or pork in various legislation but he is expected to sign the spending bill. However, he also plans to make a speech criticizing the whole process of earmarks.

Question is — does he speak out against the pork then sign the bill? Or sign the bill then criticize it? Obama is due to speak about “earmark reform” at 11:20 EDT/1520 GMT.

Senators escape being pinned down on bill full of earmarks

FINANCIAL/Much has been made in Washington over the last week in the U.S. Senate about which Democrats and Republicans would vote for the $410 billion bill to fund government operations because it includes thousands of lawmakers’ pet projects.

Some senators like Republican John McCain have excoriated the expenditures, roughly $7.7 billion according to a count by the independent group Taxpayers for Common Sense, as unnecessary spending or destined for projects that should have been properly vetted through regular congressional review.

Others like Democratic Senator Tom Harkin have defended their projects, arguing that they have worthy goals or are needed to address a problem.