Today's Papers

Not a Denny Less

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times lead with a story that’s been cooking for days: passage of a $792 billion tax cut by the House of Representatives. The bill would pare personal income tax rates by 10 percent over the next 10 years, reduce the “marriage penalty” and the highest rate on capital gains from 20 percent to 15 percent, and repeal the tax on health insurance and large inheritances. The papers concur that the plan has zilch chance of actually becoming law–President Clinton has already promised not to sign it–and that it merely represents an opening gambit in the upcoming back-and-forth over what to do with the surplus.

The reports agree that this a key victory for House Speaker Denny Hastert, who cajoled his fractious and narrow majority–including a cadre of moderates skittish about using so much of the surplus for tax cuts–into supporting the legislation. Hastert wooed party moderates by agreeing to postpone the tax cut if the government’s interest rate on the national debt climbs (the papers call this stipulation a sham; no one understands how it would actually work, and it is unlikely to survive in the Senate). The WP ‘s ticktock account of Hastert’s vote campaign proposes that the bill ultimately passed because “just about every Republican wants Hastert to succeed.” After the bill scored enough votes to win, GOP members cheered, “Coach! Coach! Coach!”

The Wall Street Journal’s “Washington Wire” column ticks off the legislation’s many concessions to special interest groups. Investmentmeister Warren Buffett persuaded Sen. Bob Kerrey to up the limit on how many bequeathed publicly traded shares a private foundation can own in a single company, while Rep. Jennifer Dunn worked on behalf of retail outlets to ensure that their incentives to build in shopping malls wouldn’t be taxed heavily.

All papers front the Chinese government’s ban of the spiritual organization Falun Gong (sometimes known as Falun Dafa). Followers are, says the NYT, largely “middle-aged people who practice a form of Chinese breathing exercises and meditation,” but they are organized enough to engineer what the WSJ calls “the largest expression of public discontent with the government since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.” The NYT waits until the 22nd paragraph of its story to explain why Beijing is so spooked by the mystics: Similar groups destabilized the last imperial dynasty, and China fears that Falun Gong could organize China’s huge numbers of newly laid-off state employees. The WSJ points out that Falun Gong’s estimated 40 million members make it a close second in membership to the Chinese Communist Party’s 55 million.

The other unanimously fronted story is the House’s denial of funding for the Air Force’s super-pricey F-22 fighters, already being prepped for production at a Lockheed Martin warehouse. Each plane cost $200 million, and Lockheed Martin is reeling from the loss of the sale. The WP attributes the decision to cost worries, as well as tension between the White House and Capitol Hill on all matters military.

A NYT front-pager and a WP inside piece report on George W. Bush’s first significant policy speech, which laid out a scheme to fund social services through private charity. Bush proposed spending $8 billion–or, as the WP reminds, 10 percent of the non-Social Security budget surplus-on tax incentives designed to stimulate contributions to nonprofits and religious groups. The WP calls Bush’s proposals the first real glimpse of the face of “compassionate conservatism” and an unmistakable rejection of Republican “free-market libertarian orthodoxy.” His programs surely would work if other citizens are as generous as his supporters: Despite his speaking in ground zero of Quayle territory, Bush carted home a one-night haul of at least $600,000.

The WSJ reports that despite Al Gore’s avid technophilia, Bill Bradley is outpacing him in Silicon Valley contributors, with George W. Bush a close second. High-tech titans admire Bradley’s nuanced grasp of financial esoterica and support for free trade. Meanwhile, Gore’s stock suffers from his tight associations with tort lawyers, who often bring stockholder suits against startups when their stock tanks.

Need a mate? A WSJ piece quotes friendly-sounding singles ads, complete with descriptions like “Looking for a playmate?” “full of energy and spunk,” and “a real ladies man.” But don’t respond unless you’re ready to get down on four legs; the ads feature dogs in need of a home.