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First Draft | Today in Politics: Afghan President Addresses Congress – New York Times

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President Obama with President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan during a joint news conference on Tuesday.Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Good Wednesday morning from Washington, where Republicans have been partying with former Vice President Dick Cheney while Congress is nearing a budget breakthrough. March Madness is getting increasingly political as the tournament rolls on, and President Obama is using the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act to take a victory lap, of sorts. Victories have not come easy in Afghanistan, however, but the country’s new president is in town to offer a status report.

Another foreign leader will address Congress in the House on Wednesday, but this one is more likely to be thanking President Obama and America than criticizing the president.

Ashraf Ghani, the new president of Afghanistan who has been in Washington this week, will speak to a joint meeting of the House and Senate just a few weeks after the fiery appearance by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who used the occasion to assail the administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.

But Mr. Ghani, a former World Bank official familiar with the ways of Washington, will speak one day after Mr. Obama agreed to his request to halt the pullout of United States forces to allow more time for the Afghan military to prepare for American troops to be almost completely out of Afghanistan by 2017.

In his public statements, Mr. Ghani has emphasized his country’s gratitude for the American commitment of money and military forces, and he will no doubt reiterate that sentiment before Congress, which is responsible for providing the money for the American presence. Some televisions at the White House might even be turned on to this address to Congress.

– Carl Hulse

Stay tuned throughout the day @NYTpolitics for First Draft updates

Congress Is Ready to Spend the Money and Run

After an extensive internal debate, heaps of ridicule from Democrats and years of promising to hack away at federal spending, congressional Republicans are poised to pass their respective budgets with big increases to military spending, before leaving town for a two-week recess.

On Wednesday, House Republicans will vote on their budget, and party leaders are betting that those members who objected to increased spending will come around.

The austere spending plan, with large cuts to social programs, will add $ 2 billion in additional “emergency” war funding outside the discretionary caps set in the Budget Control Act, through a procedural trick known as “Queen of the Hill.”

Over in the Senate, members have already begun to vote on scores of expected amendments on a budget plan that will most likely pass in the witching hours of Friday morning.

In that chamber, the dynamic was about the same. Defense hawks won the day and forced the Budget Committee to add $ 38 billion above the president’s $ 58 billion request in military spending through a war account not subject to statutory spending restrictions, and Senate Republicans seemed poised to sign off.

If bursting caps on military spending through procedural trickery of the trade contradicts years of griping about overspending, please don’t point that out to Republicans, who get a wee bit defensive. “We were trying to pass a budget that met the B.C.A. totals,” said Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota. “But there was a strong feeling we needed to do more for the military.”

– Jennifer Steinhauer

Cheney Rallies Troops and Rakes In Cash at G.O.P. Dinner

Dick Cheney can still pack a house. Or in this case, a museum.

Republicans raked in more than $ 17 million at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s spring dinner Tuesday night, as conservatives flocked to the National Building Museum in Washington to hear the former vice president denounce President Obama’s foreign policy.

While the news media was excluded from the event, Mr. Cheney was said to have given a robust critique of Mr. Obama’s policies on Iran, Iraq, Israel, Russia and Syria.

Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who attended the dinner, said Mr. Cheney drew multiple rounds of applause from what he acknowledged was a “sympathetic” audience. Mr. Cheney stuck to attacking Mr. Obama and steered clear of presidential politics, said Mr. Cole, the committee chairman in 2008.

As for the rest of the crowd, Mr. Cole said Republicans were most interested in winning in 2016 and less sure about who could get them there. Those with experience as governors, such as former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, seemed to be favorites over senators considering a run.

Regardless, Mr. Cole said the mood was good, and the money was pouring in.

“Financially, we’re going to do very well,” he said.

– Alan Rappeport

What We’re Watching Today

President Obama will deliver remarks hailing the success of the Affordable Care Act on its fifth anniversary.

The House Appropriations Committee holds a 10 a.m. hearing on the F.B.I. budget.

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan addresses Congress at 10:45 a.m.

March Madness, the Politics Edition

To the delight of those who see politics as sport, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and his aides have taken to describing the Republican primary constituencies in terms of March Madness brackets, with Final Four spots for the Establishment, Libertarians, Evangelicals and the Tea Party.

The Cruz team believes it is the top seed in the Tea Party bracket, but also among conservative evangelicals, a point underlined by the senator’s decision to announce his presidential candidacy on Monday at Liberty University, a Baptist institution in Lynchburg, Va.

But Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the libertarian favorite, is not willing to cede ground on the evangelical vote. On Thursday, he will meet with 60 to 90 evangelical leaders in Washington, according to his office.

His hope is that, come the Iowa caucuses, Cruz fans will be left mournfully playing a piccolo.

– Jason Horowitz

Our Favorites From Today’s Times

Hillary Rodham Clinton is caught between the dueling forces of teachers and donors on education.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida appears to be quite comfortable raising money in Washington.

A bipartisan deal on health care issues has hit a snag in the Senate.

Senator Dan Coats, Republican of Indiana, will not seek re-election in 2016.

What We’re Reading Elsewhere

The New Yorker says Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is stronger than he might appear because he does not fear losing.

The National Review explains why Mr. Cruz can win.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told the radio host Hugh Hewitt he would revoke President Obama’s possible Iran deal if he wins the White House.

The Hill weighs in on the hairdo Michelle Obama was wearing on “Jeopardy!”

Former Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat, had some harsh words for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr, according to Politico.

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