Today's Papers

Rush to Fudgement

The budget deal still dominates. It leads at USA Today and the Washington Post. Although the New York Times lead spot (i.e., top right) is given to the New York state budget accord, the paper’s front page is dominated by a large photo of deal players Gingrich, Kasich, and Domenici and three budget-related articles. The Los Angeles Times leads with a California court decision giving companies more power to fire older employees, but has two budget articles on the front–one about how the deal might defang last year’s welfare reform law, the other about how it might stimulate real estate sales in such welfare-free zones as Newport Beach.

The reporting makes it clear that right now, Washington is too busy bi-partying–the stories describe the Democrats celebrating yesterday on the White House South Lawn, the Republicans on the Capitol steps–to think much about the morning after. The papers note that House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt is one of the few who skipped his party’s party. “This agreement sacrifices tomorrow’s hopes for today’s headlines,” Gephardt says in USAT. The deal is expected to be voted into law this week so that members of Congress can start their August vacations right on time.

The front section cover story of USAT–“Budget Bill Skirts Some Hard Decisions”–does a good job of articulating Gephardt-style concerns: “Left for another day are the specifics of which domestic programs will be cut to meet tight spending targets to balance the budget in 2002. What’s more, the budget’s most serious looming problem–the cost of runaway entitlement programs, including Medicare–was put aside in favor of yet another bipartisan commission to study the issue.” The piece explains, as does the WP, that the budget deficit projections for 2002 have dropped so much because of the strong economy that it won’t take much incremental change to balance the budget for that target year, which of course won’t mean much if the bill’s tax cuts then “explode in cost down the road.”

The Wall Street Journal and WP observe that the deal is anything but tax simplification. The Post calls the bill’s tax provisions “an accountant’s playground.”

The NYT notes that the $500-a-child tax credit that President Clinton fought so hard to get into the deal was the “crown jewel of the Republicans’$2 1994 Contract With America,” and that in boasting yesterday about the bill’s college subsidies, Republicans were referring to the same feature they “had derided a few months ago as a device for little more than tuition inflation.” In fact, it gets even more confusing: Al Kamen of the WP points out that none of the Republicans pushing for easing inheritance taxes and capital gains cuts is a millionaire (if you don’t count their homes), while the Democrats who had opposed these ideas include “Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin (worth as much as $90 million), White House Chief of Staff Erskine B. Bowles (who could be worth as much as $60 million), and Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin D. Raines (who might top out at a paltry $35 million).”

Vacations are obviously needed all around at the NYT op-ed desk, where concept fatigue has broken out big-time. Today’s humor piece about the stock market in 2067 has its moments (“‘The absence of liquidity is bound to result in a drop in demand for stocks,’ explained John Huang 3d of Goldman, Sachs/Time-Warner/Defense Department and Company.”), but it’s also the third piece on the page in the past two months based on the Bogus Fast Forward conceit.