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ThinkFast: December 16, 2010

The White House has released a summary document assessing the progress of its Afghanistan strategy, concluding that it is “showing progress” against al Qaeda and the Taliban. The review indicated that the administration was “setting conditions” to begin the “responsible reduction” of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July.

Top military officials are downplaying the planned July 2011 withdrawal date in Afghanistan, telling Fox News that they “do not expect combat troops to be leaving by that time.” According to the report, “[m]ilitary officials in Kabul dismissed the July timeframe as D.C. politics, saying the only date the military cares about is 2014.”

Reto Stocker, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, said yesterday that Afghan civilians are being squeezed between dueling sides as armed groups and fighting have increased. “We are entering a new, rather murky phase in the conflict in which the proliferation of armed groups threatens the ability of humanitarian organizations to reach the people who need their help,” Stocker said.

The Labor Department reports that weekly claims for jobless benefit dropped by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 420,000 in the week ending Dec. 11. The AP reports that fewer numbers of people applying for unemployment benefits is “the third drop in the past four weeks and a sign that the job market is slowly improving.”

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The House will vote today on the Obama-GOP deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts but the lower chamber will also vote on a measure to amend the compromise plan with a higher estate tax sought by Democrats. If the amendment fails, the House will vote on the tax bill the Senate passed yesterday.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said yesterday that President Obama put pressure on Democrats to vote for his tax cut compromise by saying it would be “the end of his presidency” if the deal didn’t go through. “The White House is putting on tremendous pressure, making phone calls; the president’s making phone calls saying that’s the end of his presidency if he doesn’t get this bad deal,” DeFazio said on CNN.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) slammed Senate Republicans for claiming that doing their job and voting around Christmas is disrespectful to Christians. “I don’t need to hear the sanctimonious lectures of Sens. Kyl and DeMint to remind me of what Christmas means,” Reid said during a floor speech yesterday.

Republican Senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran have sponsored hundreds of earmarks for their home state of Mississippi — each have more earmarks than almost any other Senator. Yet the two are prepared to vote against the omnibus bill because it contains too many earmarks, joining other Republican Senators voting against their own projects, such as Mitch McConnell (KY), John Cornyn (TX), John Thune (SD) and others.

And finally: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) made a splash in Washington when he returned for the lame duck session of Congress sporting a new beard. Now, Coburn’s facial hair has taken to Twitter. @TomCoburnsBeard keeps the world updated about what’s important to the “peppered beard that clings to Tom Coburn’s face,” such as, “i’m ok with tom’s crusade to cut government spending, so long as he doesn’t cut me.”

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