Today's Papers

The Senate Butts In

USA Today

and the Washington Post lead with the new tobacco settlement bill taking shape in the Senate. The New York Times leads with the endorsement by House Republican leaders of new tax breaks to help people who must buy their own health insurance. The Los Angeles Times goes with the general split inside Republican ranks over whether or not tax cuts should be part of this year’s budget. The story notes that the current proposed House budget includes tax cuts totaling $60 billion, compared to the $350 billion worth of cuts called for in the Contract with America.

USAT reports that the proposed tobacco bill would raise the price of a pack of cigarettes by $1.10 and would cost cigarette companies more than half a trillion dollars–a considerable increase over the $365 billion agreed to in the proposed settlement reached last summer between the attorneys general of 40 states and the leading tobacco manufacturers. Like that settlement, the Senate bill aims to reduce underage smoking, regulate nicotine as a drug and alter the tone and reach of tobacco advertising. It also includes a payout to tobacco farmers as compensation for lost income.

The WP states, “Both the tobacco industry and public health advocates assailed the bill from opposite directions: The industry called its price-tag ‘unrealistic and onerous’ while public health advocates said it was too weak on the key issue of cutting underage smoking.” Yet, USAT says, “tobacco industry spokesmen declined public comment.” Also, it’s very odd to talk about the reaction of the “industry” and “public health advocates” so broadly. Neither are monoliths. So, why no for-attribution quotes in the Post account here?

The Post does explain one nuance USAT overlooks: whether that $1.10 per pack surcharge specified in the bill will actually raise cigarette prices enough to significantly reduce cigarette purchases. By the way, the NYT states the Republicans plan to pay for their health insurance initiative with revenue raised from higher cigarette taxes, with or without the passage of a comprehensive tobacco settlement.

The Wall Street Journal presents the “Award for Environmental Lunacy” to the Michigan bureaucrat who sent a letter to a landowner last December threatening him with “enforcement action” for “unauthorized” and “hazardous” dam-building on his property. The landowner responded by pointing out that the dams were built by…beavers.

The Journal’s main “Politics and Policy” piece notes a signal consequence of the absorption of the White House staff in the Clinton sex scandals: the further empowerment of his Cabinet officers. Especially true, says the paper, for Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and his deputy, Lawrence Summers, Budget Director Frank Raines, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Defense Secretary William Cohen.

The WP runs a front-page piece noting that the NCAA is very worried about the fallout from the point-shaving indictment last week of two former Northwestern basketball players. The amount of money bet legally in Nevada on this year’s basketball tournament, says the Post, exceeds the amount bet there on the Super Bowl, and the FBI says close to $2.5 billion is bet on it illegally. Gee, maybe, the situation would improve if newspapers didn’t print point-spreads.

Meanwhile, the NYT front is concerned with another, er, sport. The Times takes note of the latest developments in professional wrestling: more sexual content, coarser language, and no more Good Guys. This apparently produced an existential crisis on 43rd St.: “Now, there is no obvious moral center: everything is basically bad and worse.” Thank God, there’s Brendan Maguire, a professor of sociology at Western Illinois University specializing in wrestling, for these troubled Times to quote.

Over the weekend, “Titanic” director James “King of the World” Cameron began exercising the perks of his new office by writing a piece in the LAT in which he tried to fire the paper’s lead film critic, author of two scathing reviews of the iceberg epic. “Forget about Clinton,” the director wrote, “How do we impeach Kenneth Turan?”