Today's Papers

The House Budges

The House’s passage Tuesday night of the $500 billion federal spending bill leads at USAT, the LAT and the WP. The papers report that the Senate is expected to approve the bill today. The NYT leads with the continuing Mideast talks, stashing the budget story inside. The Times says the participation by Jordan’s King Hussein appears to have created some optimism. The paper also reports two sticking points: 1) the Israelis want to put a specific number of Palestinians-including some Palestinian Authority cops-on trial for terrorist attacks against Israelis, and 2) the Palestinians are insisting that safe passage rights for their people between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip extend to making the trip in private cars, not just mass transportation. All the majors’ fronts except the LAT’s report Day 2 of the Microsoft trial, at which the company’s lawyer made his opening statement, comparing the government to 19th century Luddites going around smashing machines with sledgehammers.

The papers all note what a kludge the budget process has become. For instance, the NYT points out that the House bill incorporates numerous policy decisions that Congress never debated. And they all tick off examples of its extremities. The LAT, for example, reports that it includes legislation to carry out the Chemical Weapons Convention (previously passed by the Senate, but not implemented) as well as a measure to keep the world safe for airborne peanuts. Ritually, everybody but USAT mentions some of the bill’s physical dimensions–the WP gives the most stats of this sort: weight=40 pounds, height=16 inches, and the number of pages=3,825. This sort of thing reeks of press-released pre-packaged “color”-space-consuming and boring.

All the papers mention that Newt Gingrich dismissed critics of the bill as perfectionists. But USAT never explains that it was the G.O.P.’s hard-core conservatives who were complaining. The WP does mention this, but it’s the LAT and the NYT that play the point high, explaining that by the conservatives’ lights, the bill spends too much and cuts taxes too little. The NYT even goes out of its piece saying that the vote revealed a severe split in the Republican Party that may be hard to patch up.

The LAT budget story notes a last-minute deal in which Sen. Alfonse D’Amato won approval of a provision requiring health insurance companies to cover post-mastectomy reconstructive surgery, and explains it this way: D’Amato was trying to undercut his election opponent’s strong support among women voters. This is a bit brisk for a news story: Isn’t there any chance that D’Amato is concerned about women not being able to afford reconstructions?

The NYT front and the WSJ front-page business news box report that according to the latest government figures, the U.S. foreign trade gap for August reached the highest level-$16.77 billion-recorded since the present method of calculation was adopted in 1992. The Journal says a government analyst estimates the deficit is actually now the biggest since December 1985. The two papers attribute the weak exports and strong imports behind the gap to the global economic downturn.

The LAT fronts high a story about the emerging tension between the makers of legal, medical and financial software on the one hand, and lawyers, doctors and investment professionals on the other, as the software nibbles away at the professionals’ traditional turf. The piece reports that in Texas, a committee of lawyers is trying to ban self-help legal software via a statute barring anyone–or anything, the paper wryly notes–from practicing law without a license. One of the attacked programs, Quicken Family Lawyer, features Arthur Miller, who while not a member of the Texas bar, is a professor at Harvard Law School.

The paper notes that the power of the Internet will only expand professional software’s reach. An example the LAT gives is the recent spate of web sites that facilitate the sale of Viagra to those logging on and filling out a questionnaire. In telling this story, the paper makes an interesting choice: deciding to publish the web address for one Viagra site. This is tantamount to free advertising. Does the LAT also intend to start publishing the phone numbers of lawyers and doctors in stories about them?