Today's Papers

Neck and Neck

All the papers lead with President Clinton’s last State of the Union address. (The story also tops the Wall Street Journal’s front-page “Worldwide” box.) “Never before has our nation enjoyed, at once, so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis or so few external threats,” Clinton said, asserting that “the state of our union has never been stronger.” Most papers note that the speech was surprisingly ambitious for a president in his last year in office. Clinton proposed new tax credits for college tuition payments (up to $10,000 per family), a $1 minimum-wage increase, a plan for Medicare to cover prescription drugs, $1 billion in tax incentives to help spur the development of vaccines for poor nations, photo licenses and safety tests for gun owners, and more than $3 billion in education spending, including $1 billion for Head Start. True to form, Clinton also triangulated some Republican issues, most notably a proposal to end the “marriage penalty” as part of a $250 billion, 10-year tax cut (about the same amount as he unsuccessfully pushed last year, the Journal notes) and a plan to encourage charitable contributions through tax incentives. At 89 minutes, the Washington Post notes, it was his longest SOU, and included five mentions of Vice President Al Gore.

A WSJ/NBC News poll shows Al Gore in a statistical dead-heat with George W. Bush, the vice president’s most competitive showing in two years. And he has nearly doubled his national lead over Bill Bradley, from 54 percent-32 percent in December to 64 percent -22 percent now. Bush, for his part, increased his national lead over John McCain slightly, but Gore’s increased competitiveness could begin to hurt his standing in the GOP field, the Journal notes. Potential Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan drew just 5 percent.

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times front an Israeli comptroller’s report that Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s party, One Israel, illegally channeled large donations from domestic and foreign sources through nonprofit front groups in the months leading to Barak’s victory over former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (The Post says the donations totaled $2.1 million out of a $22 million campaign budget; the NYT says it was only $1.2 million.) Barak pleads ignorance of his party’s fund-raising details, but the comptroller’s fine and initiation of a criminal investigation is expected to hurt the prime minister’s credibility at home during negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians. The Post notes that one of Barak’s chief fund-raisers, Tal Zilbersteiin, runs the Tel Aviv office of a political consultancy headed by former Clinton administration campaign officials Stanley Greenberg, James Carville, and Bob Shrum.

Kodak moment: The Post’s Internet edition runs a marvelous photo of President Clinton, post-SOU, embracing nonogenerian Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. The president hulks over the former Dixiecrat–who, it should be noted, ran for president when Clinton was 2 years old. …  Freudian slip? At one point in his speech, the Post notes, President Clinton spoke about the “liberal” communities envisioned by Vice President Gore. He then corrected himself with “livable.”