Today's Papers

Chasing to the Cut

USA Today leads with President-elect George W. Bush’s strategy–sourced to unnamed Bush aides–for getting a sweeping tax cut passed early next year. Both the Washington Post and New York Times lead with the decision by the secretary of health and human services, Donna Shalala, to kill a program recently approved by Congress that would have attempted to make prescription drugs more affordable by allowing re-imports of low-cost variants of them. The Los Angeles Times, which fronts the drug decision, leads instead with what it describes as the sharp jump in fourth-quarter profits likely to be experienced by companies supplying electricity to California, where hearings about raising rates further are about to be held. The headline refers to “SUPPLIERS” in the plural, but the story emphasizes one company’s rosy projections, with no other firm mentioned before the jump.

The USAT lead says the Bush tax-cut sales strategy has three prongs: 1) Emphasize that the cuts could stave off a recession, while perhaps separating them from the attempt to abolish the estate tax. 2) Stress how the upcoming $6 trillion surplus projection (already the subject of an upbeat USAT leader last week) means the cut would not impair Democratic Party spending priorities in health care, education, and national defense. 3) Use friendships among Dick Cheney, Treasury Secretary-designate Paul O’Neill, and Fed chairman Alan Greenspan to gain the latter’s endorsement.

Shalala, the papers report, was exercising powers Congress put into the bill it passed last fall. The WP headline says it was Shalala’s decision. The NYT’s says it was the White House’s. Both the NYT and WP leads clearly explain the grounds for Shalala’s rejection: Drug companies could have blocked the imports by denying access to federally required labels, they could still have pressured distributors to raise prices, and the whole scheme was only authorized for five years, which might have meant companies wouldn’t have made the investments in added testing equipment the new shipments would require. (The papers don’t address how it could be legal to not do that additional testing.) In short, Shalala thought that neither public safety nor lower prices were a sure thing. The stories also point out that in the past both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have expressed some support for the idea just turned down. But high up, the LAT puts the program in the clearest perspective when it observes that the reimported drugs would have a lower base price only because most other countries have something the U.S. does not, and still wouldn’t, have under the proposal–price controls on drugs.

Everybody fronts a shooting at the Massachusetts office of an Internet consulting firm, in which seven workers were murdered, apparently by a fellow employee brooding over tax troubles. The man was arrested afterwards, in possession of an AK-47, a shotgun, and a semi-automatic pistol. The NYT account says that the shooting was the worst rampage in an American workplace since … Nov. 2, 1999.”

A WP front-pager documents some claims that in the presidential election, voting machine rejections of intent-to-vote ballots affected blacks disproportionately. The paper says it has discovered that in Atlanta’s Fulton County, which uses the old-style punch card machines, one in every 16 ballots for president were invalidated, while two nearby largely white and more Republican counties had rejection rates of one in 200, and that in many black precincts in Chicago the rate was one in six.

The Wall Street Journal today runs a long reminiscence by conservative novelist and speechwriter Mark Helprin about, well, Today’s Papers has no idea what it’s about, but there’s still something worth pointing out about it. Helprin’s Journal by-line still omits his former claims of military service, yet in the piece Helprin vaguely refers to “my military history.” (And later on, after describing his father’s paratroop experience during the Normandy invasion, he writes as if he himself has parachuted in combat, although he carefully doesn’t exactly say this.) Suggestion to Journal editors: Before ever again letting Helprin explain warfare to the rest of us, have him write a piece in which he clears up once and for all his “military history.”

And talk about weird bylines … check out what’s missing from the credits under the LAT’s op-ed on Korea. The reader is told that one of the authors, Michael Parks, is a visiting professor at USC, but not that he used to be the paper’s editor in chief.