Today's Papers

Social Insecurity

Both the New York Times and Washington Post lead with President Clinton’s announcement Saturday that he plans to send a proposal for shoring up Social Security to Congress by the end of the week. Yet the papers give the story wildly different spins. While the NYT paints Clinton’s comments as a “concession” meant to build bipartisan support for the measure, the WP describes them as an attack on the GOP and an example of “escalating rhetoric.” The Los Angeles Times–which fronts the Social Security news in a story that splits the difference between the other two papers–leads instead with a story about a Maryland biotech firm that has made remarkable progress in cracking the genetic code and is seeking patents for 6,000 of its research finds. The news has raised fears among some scientists that what the paper calls “fundamental advances in a genetic revolution” will wind up being controlled by a handful of for-profit companies.

Clinton and congressional Republicans have been trading barbs for several days about the state of Social Security legislation, which aims to confront a looming shortage of funds when Baby Boomers retire. For a time Clinton favored investing up to 15 percent of current S.S. reserves in the stock market as a hedge against that future deficit, but in the face of GOP opposition he has withdrawn the idea. The NYT sees that as a significant olive branch. The Post focuses instead on Clinton’s negative comments about the GOP’s own Social Security proposal–and doesn’t mention that Clinton has abandoned the stock market idea until the eleventh of twenty paragraphs.

The LAT calls Clinton’s comments part of “sparring” between the parties, and says he “returned to the political offensive Saturday.”  The paper puts the news about the dropped stock market measure in the seventh paragraph, and explains Republican opposition to that plan more succinctly than the other papers, citing “fear that this could eventually lead to government control of corporations.”

The NYT’s off-lead reports that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is making it increasingly difficult for Russian students to obtain visas to attend American universities. The rejection rate for student visas has doubled even as the total number of applications has declined. Embassy officials apparently worry that chaos in Russian economic and political life will prompt students to stay on illegally in the U.S. after their visas expire. This comes at a time, the paper notes, when the Clinton administration has been outspoken about the need to bolster cultural ties between the two countries.

The WP fronts a story that examines the limits of George W. Bush’s much touted “compassionate conservatism.” Early this year, legislators in Texas–which has more uninsured children than all but one state–introduced a bill designed to enroll poor Texas youth in a federally funded health care program. Bush, worried that the law would also lead more Texas children to enroll in Medicaid, a program that requires a hefty state contribution per child, fought to limit eligibility for the federal program. The legislature ultimately won the fight, “but the governor fought us tooth and nail,” one lawmaker is quoted saying.

A NYT front-pager reports that much of Bill Bradley’s early fundraising success can be explained in two words: Wall Street. Bradley has amassed nearly $20 million in donations this year, and the top six sources of that income are all investment houses. Bradley was never particularly kind to financial interests as a senator, the paper notes. But the relationships he forged during his 18 years on the Senate Finance Committee–plus a stint with J.P. Morgan after he left office–seem to have outweighed policy differences. And the two NBA championship rings Bradley earned with the New York Knicks have also helped, since so many on Wall Street are sports fans.

A WP front-pager reports that the newly elected president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, is helping calm the country’s unsettled political climate with an avuncular style. But his grip on power, the paper reports, may be fragile: Wahid is frail and almost totally blind. (The story never gives his age, though.) Even his supporters began to worry when military aides had to help him sign his name after his inaugural speech.

The NYT fronts the news that it’s a good time to be a butler looking for work in the U.S. As the number of wealthy families has soared–there are now 275,000 American households with assets of more of than $10 million, up from just 65,000 a decade ago–demand for well-trained help has risen apace. In Manhattan, “household managers” (that’s the favored term these days) now command salaries as high as $120,000 per year.

In a lengthy cover piece in the New York Times Magazine, James Bennet assesses the Reform Party as it stumbles toward the 2000 election. After interviews with Reform veterans and newcomers alike–including Jesse Ventura, Ross Perot, Donald Trump, and Pat Buchanan–Bennet reports deep policy divisions as well as plenty of eccentricities. (Trump hates shaking hands, for example, which might make pressing the flesh as a presidential candidate a bit difficult.) “The upshot,” Bennet writes, “is that the Reform Party is entering a critical election torn by what is essentially a civil war.”