Today's Papers

Couples Therapy

Everybody leads with the Senate’s approval of a Republican tax cut for married couples designed to ease the quirk in the tax code that makes many couples pay more income tax per person than they would if they were single. The bill would have to be reconciled with a House version to become law, which is not likely in any case since President Clinton has vowed to veto it (unless Congress passes a Medicare prescription drug benefit, something congressional Republicans have shown no interest in), and yesterday’s Senate vote didn’t get veto override numbers.

The papers all note that the bill gives relief to all married taxpayers, not just those now paying the penalty. But they vary in the detail and emphasis they give to this crucial point. The Washington Post  makes it high, but too briskly. USA Today gives better detail but waits until the third-to-last paragraph. The New York Times also does a quick pass high, but when it returns to the matter uses the correct phrase “marriage bonus” to describe the marrieds helped yesterday who already were ahead. The Los Angeles Times does the best job on this, getting into the point immediately, using the notion of a “marriage bonus,” and giving the actual numbers of those penalized before yesterday–25 million couples–and those advantaged–21 million. Running the numbers like this is crucial since it shows that the basic concept behind the bill is a crock.

For the above reasons, it’s good that everybody who uses the word “penalty” in a headline uses scare-quotes around it.

The WP does the best job of painting the larger context for the marriage tax bill: the Republicans’ drive to cut or eliminate a broad range of taxes. Indeed, the Post headline doesn’t even mention the marriage penalty. Instead it reads: “GOP TAX CUT BANDWAGON ROLLS ON.” Everybody mentions the political force on this issue of ever-ballooning budget surplus numbers. As the WP puts it, “Republicans are now gambling that voters, swept up in a booming economy, are becoming inured to long-standing Democratic arguments that GOP tax cuts primarily help the rich.”

Most of the coverage–the exception is the LAT–ignores the claimed philosophical justification for the bill: that the tax code should be fixed to encourage, not discourage marriage. But there is a difference between rewarding and encouraging that the coverage doesn’t pay any attention to. None of the coverage wonders whether there’s any evidence that significant numbers of people actually are influenced in their decision to get married or not get married by the “penalty” yesterday’s vote aimed at fixing.

Of the editions available to TP, the NYT and LAT front reports that President Clinton, in an attempt to move the ball at Camp David, has delayed his departure for the economic summit in Japan by one day. The NYT says the decision reflects the up and down twists of the talks, which have included at times, closing in on agreement on all issues, including the status of Jerusalem, and at others Yasser Arafat’s readiness to pack his bags and leave. The LAT says Clinton’s delay is “a clear indication that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are tantalizingly close to a deal.”

The NYT goes top-front with news that today the U.S. will announce plans to offer sub-Saharan African nations $1 billion in loans annually to pay for the purchase of American AIDS drugs and medical services. The story refers to past reluctance by Republicans in Congress about the debt-relief AIDS stratagem and says that these new loans will not be subject to congressional approval, but doesn’t explain why.

The WP and NYT report inside that the Pentagon admitted it was embarrassed for giving an award–withdrawn within hours–for “outstanding security performance and practices” to the Loral Space & Communications Co., which once sent its analysis of a Chinese rocket failure to the Chinese government without getting permission from the State Department as required by export laws.

USAT’s front-page “cover story” says that, faced with recruiting shortfalls, the military services are easing up considerably on basic training, with the result that each is pumping through lots of soldiers who wouldn’t have made it just a few years ago. With all these falling standards (and Today’s Papers is skeptical: It thinks the fundamental law of basic training is It Was Much Tougher Before You Got Here), it’s reassuring to see that some things about the military have not changed: You still can’t do a story about it without quoting Charles Moskos.

Funny, that’s why he’s doing it too. The NYT reports that next week, O.J. Simpson will be on television promoting a Web site via which, for a fee, people can log on and ask him questions. Booked shows include NBC’s Today show, ABC’s The View, and Fox’s The Edge. The producer of The View is quoted as saying “the image of O. J. sitting in the center of our panel of women was too powerful to resist.”