Harry Reid on liberal lobbying groups, Afghanistan, and 2010

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At a wide ranging meeting with reporters on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid supported President Obama’s decision to commit more troops to Afghanistan, predicted Democrats would pick up Senate seats in 2010, and called on liberal lobbying groups to back off on ads pushing Obama’s budget.

Senator Reid was briefed in advance on a plan Obama announced Friday to send an additional 4,000 troops to Afghanistan on top of the 17,000 he had directed to the country earlier this year.

“There is no chest thumping, no bring ‘em on, there is no mission accomplished,” Reid told reporters at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast. “What we are going to do based on what President Obama has outlined is have a more narrow focus. [The] narrow focus is to protect Americans. We are going after Al Qaeda. That is our goal in Afghanistan.”

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Not enough from NATO

The Nevada Democrat was asked if he and the president were satisfied with the contribution NATO allies are making to the effort in Afghanistan. “You would have to ask the president if he is satisfied. I am not,” Reid said. “But I recognize they are having some financial problems of their own. But I think that they have been really not as helpful as they should be.”

He disapproves of liberal lobbying groups running advertisements targeting moderate Democratic senators trying to get them to support President Obama’s budget. MoveOn.org and Americans United for Change have launched separate ad campaigns designed to pressure House and Senate Democrats to line up behind the administration’s ambitious fiscal plans. “These groups should leave them alone. It’s not helpful to me. It’s not helpful to the Democratic Caucus,” Reid said.

Charity change exaggerated

During the breakfast meeting, Reid voiced support for one of the most controversial provisions of the Obama budget, a proposal to lower the rate at which high income taxpayers could deduct charitable contributions. “They are lowering the amount you can deduct by a few percentage points. That is all it is,” Reid said. “I just think that it has been blown way out of proportion.” He quoted the president at a meeting on the Hill this week telling one Senator who criticized the charitable deduction proposal, “You can't have it both ways. You have to pay for some of this stuff.”

In the 2010 elections, “We are in a position to pick up a number of seats,” Reid said. “And I think that our success is tied to Obama’s success….I would love to have 60, I would be happy with 59 [Senate seats],” he said, adding, “I think we focus a little too much on numbers.”

Ugly election-year changes

When asked about the challenge of running the Senate and running for reelection himself in 2010, Reid said, “I am not going to change anything. I have always been who I am. People in Nevada know that. Some people like who I am. Others don’t. I have watched other senators try to change who they are during an election cycle. I think it is real ugly and I am not going to do that.” Reid said he had raised $2 million in the last quarter for his re-election. “I feel comfortable that I will be competitive,” he said.

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