Today's Papers

High Wiring Act

The New York Times leads with the recommendation by the nation’s air safety board that thousands of airliners currently in service be rewired as a precaution against the sort of fuel tank explosion that destroyed TWA Flight 800. The Washington Post goes with an exclusive about the status and contents of Kenneth Starr’s impending report to Congress. USA Today leads with President Clinton’s determination, expressed at a forum on Social Security, to fix the system. This is also the top national story at the Los Angeles Times.

The rewiring recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board, accompanied by the further suggestion that surge suppressors be put on wires going into fuel tanks, shows, says the NYT, how far investigators have come in their understanding of the TWA crash. But, explains the paper, the board has an advisory role only, and implementation must be carried out by the FAA, which often rebuffs the NTSB. The dramatic extent of the development is pointed out by the NYT’s observation that Boeing alone has produced nearly 10,000 airliners currently in service, and that the recommendation applies to the planes of at least one other company, Airbus, as well. USAT, the LAT, the WP and the Wall Street Journal mention in their accounts that an immediate motive for the advisory was not just the wiring set-up of Flight 800, but also the unsafe ones observed in three retired 747s.

Post reporter Susan Schmidt obviously had help from someone in Starr’s office in putting together what amounts to a leaked status report on the fruits of his investigation. She writes that much of the Starr report earmarked for the House of Representatives (on the grounds that it describes potentially impeachable offenses) has already been written, and that it pertains not only to President Clinton’s actions in the Lewinsky matter but also may include material about whether Clinton was truthful in his sworn testimony for the 1996 bank fraud trial of James and Susan McDougal. The Post also asserts that when the Lewinsky case broke, Starr was on the verge of bringing new charges against Clinton crony Webster Hubbell for receiving Whitewater hush money.

Incidentally, notes the WSJ, although in his present role Starr has fought hard against the administration’s contention that executive privilege shields some key Clinton advisors as well as Hillary, as a U.S. appeals court judge, Starr “seldom rebuffed an assertion of privilege.” Indeed, he wrote or joined several opinions sending support to Clinton’s position.

President Clinton made a no-new-payroll-taxes comment at the first of four scheduled regional town-hall style meetings on Social Security, in Kansas City. However, reports USAT, aides later said he might support raising more revenue for the program by increasing the limit on wages subject to the payroll tax. But the NYT says Clinton would be “reluctant” to do that. USAT says that one of the few concrete positions Clinton took at the meeting was ruling out a conversion of Social Security to a private pension system. But the NYT says Clinton is willing to consider private individual accounts provided the overall plan they’re a part of continues to provide recipients with a guaranteed retirement benefit. The LAT, in its front-page piece, agrees that Clinton sees the possibility of some privatization.

The WP has Clinton advisor Paul Begala’s reaction to House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s comment that if he were facing the same sexual misconduct charges as Clinton, he would resign: “If goofy ideas ever go up to $40 a barrel, I’d like to have the drilling rights to Dick Armey’s head.”