Today's Papers

Cabinet Fever

USA Today leads with the Congressional Budget Office’s just-revised estimate that over the next decade, the U.S. government will run up a $6 trillion surplus–an increase of 30 percent over this past summer’s CBO estimate. The Washington Post, citing Republican party sources, leads with President-elect George W. Bush’s selection of Virginia Gov. James Gilmore III as the party’s new chairman. The New York Times goes with bumps in the transition, saying that Bush is not entirely satisfied with either of the leading candidates for secretary of defense, and also that intense conservative opposition has been a factor in the delay in filling the attorney general slot. The top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page news box also reports on the “political hothouse” the abbreviated transition has become. The Los Angeles Times, continuing its recent focus on California’s electricity crisis, leads with the state utility commission’s initial moves towards allowing private power companies (but not public ones) to charge consumers higher rates.

The USAT lead runs under the headline “SURPLUS SOARS DESPITE SLUMP” and enthuses that the new surplus estimate is “a huge Christmas bonus” for Congress that “could mean tax cuts, prescription drug benefits and a national-debt paydown.” But the story delays until the fifth paragraph mentioning that the main reason for the upward revision is that the CBO’s economists are adopting a new rosier estimate for long-term growth. In other words, the event this story is about is not the blaring objective change in the economy of its headline, but a highly subjective change in a guess about the economy.

The WP lead sums up the Republicans’ new honcho Gilmore as: tough-minded, tax-cutting, fund-raising, opposed to abortions after eight to12 weeks, pro-death penalty, not a sparkling speaker, but good at staying on message.

TheNYT lead explains that one of the leading defense secretary candidates, ex-Sen. Dan Coats, “did not quite meet Mr. Bush’s expectations” when the two talked earlier this week and that Bush is concerned that the other candidate, Paul Wolfowitz, a former Pentagon policy expert now in academe, may not be up to managing the Defense bureaucracy. The paper, citing some Republican sources, explains that “the amiable” Coats might be no match for either active duty four-star generals or a retired one, Colin Powell. On the other had, explains the Times, Coats is enthusiastically supported by conservative groups and by many Republicans in the Senate, including Trent Lott, which means turning him down could get ugly.

The Times lead has some background on a one-time leading candidate for attorney general, Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, who on Wednesday took himself out of the running, citing family considerations. The paper says that several conservatives had raised doubts about his conservative credentials. The WSJ Cabinet story has this, too–adding that anti-abortion leader Gary Bauer sent out 30,000 e-mails urging resistance to Racicot and that conservative tax reformer Grover Norquist was opposed to him, too. The Journal adds that Senate Democrats were infuriated with Racicot because during the Florida wrangle he said Democrats had “gone to war” against U.S. military personnel by trying to disqualify many of their overseas ballots, which could have meant a nasty if not unsuccessful Senate approval process. The LAT front features a story saying that the Racicot drop-out could portend an even bigger shift to the right in national law enforcement policy than had already been expected under Bush.

The NYT goes long above the fold to document how Republican forces on the ground in Florida out-organized the Gore forces. The interview-intensive story says that despite his low public profile, Gov. Jeb Bush “offered detailed guidance to his brother’s lawyers on how to navigate the political thicket that was South Florida, providing information and insight about local officials” and recruited dozens of volunteers for the effort. Six of his senior political operatives, the paper says, took unpaid leaves to join up. The Democrats, says the story, also mobilized, “but they had fewer levers of power.”

The USAT front says that as law enforcement anti-drug efforts intensify in cities and suburbs, drug traffickers, many of them with links to their international counterparts, are finding a new place to operate from–national forests, which provide land for marijuana planting and deep cover and interstate highway access for their other pressing needs. And it’s not just grass, says the paper–methamphetamine is also big in those boonies.

Decisions, Decisions. The WP front reports that yesterday, President Clinton decided to put the new version of the Washington, D.C., license plates on the presidential limo. The ones with the D.C.-statehood-favoring motto “Taxation Without Representation” on them. The move, says the paper, puts George W. Bush, who has said he does not favor statehood for the nation’s capital, in the awkward position of having to decide whether or not to remove the plates.