Today's Papers

Mything The Point

Everybody leads with yesterday’s House passage of President George W. Bush’s plan to lower income tax rates, which is also the top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page worldwide news box.

The New York Times has the simplest sum-up of the bill’s impact on individual taxpayers were it to become law: It would “save middle-income taxpayers a few hundred dollars a year and the wealthiest taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. But in percentage terms, taxpayers in the higher brackets will get smaller tax cuts that those in the lower brackets.” A USA Today front-page box illustrates this by running the numbers for three different taxpayer profiles. The Times is alone among leads in pointing out that the bill “would do nothing” for the millions who now pay no income tax but still pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. Both the WSJ and NYT note that a new official Treasury account showing that the very wealthy wouldn’t benefit as much from the plan as some press accounts had suggested does not reflect the impact of repealing the estate tax, another feature of the Bush tax plan, although one that has not yet been turned into a bill. The Washington Post goes inside with an interesting follow on this. Because the Treasury accounting includes a previously ignored health insurance provision, it not only juices the cut’s benefit to taxpayers making less than $30,000 a year, but–uh-oh–also means that the top 20 percent of taxpayers would get about 60 percent of the Bush bennies while the bottom 40 percent would only snag about 9 percent.

The coverage notes that every House Republican voted yes and all but 10 Democrats voted no. The NYT says the partisan edge in the debate was every bit as sharp as in the Clinton years. The top House Democrat is widely quoted as saying this means that in Washington, bipartisanship is over. The papers also agree that this cut will move through the Senate much more slowly, with a high chance of modification. The Los Angeles Times opines just getting the bill out of the Senate Finance Committee “may prove a chore.”

The LAT fronts and the NYT goes inside with what appears to be the true horror behind the explosion earlier this week at a rural Chinese grammar school that killed at least 41 kids–the widespread use of Chinese children as laborers in various schoolhouse cottage industries–in this fatal case, a fireworks factory. Both stories say that China’s prime minister Zhu Rongji has put forward another explanation–a deranged suicide bomber–but the LAT quotes a recent official Chinese news service story’s admission that 91 percent of China’s secondary schools have set up cottage industries, which together took in $15 billion in 1999. The NYT agrees that the practice of making fireworks in rural schools is common and says that afterwards, the school’s village was “effectively under martial law” and quotes one villager saying Western reporters were being kept away by roadblocks. The papers’ diagnosis: The incident may have caused embarrassment among central government leaders about a growing economic crisis in rural China.

The NYT front runs a story about this week’s California school shooting under the headline, “SANTEE IS LATEST BLOW TO MYTH OF SUBURBIA’S SAFER SCHOOLS.” But the story itself points out that Santee has the second-lowest crime rate in San Diego County and that there is no gang problem there. Plus, it reports that nationwide, school violence is down and that a recent study found that suburban and rural students are far less likely to fear school violence than urban students. So the question is, what myth?

The NYT reports inside on the failing health of 98-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond, a Washington subject “no one, Democrat or Republican, really wants to talk about.” But as the story explains, for the 50-50 Senate it’s no idle topic. If Thurmond can’t make roll call votes, then Dick Cheney will usually miss the chance to break ties, and if he can’t complete his term (which expires in 2003), then South Carolina’s Democratic governor will almost surely appoint a Democrat. The NYT suggests that until very recently, Thurmond, whose Senate remarks now pretty much come straight off index cards written for him by his staff, was quite with it, but even if that’s so, there’s one question the story doesn’t address: When the people of South Carolina elected a 94-year-old man to a six-year term, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

The NYT goes inside with a fun little news nugget from the IRS you might want to remember on April 15th. What do 5 percent of the House of Representatives and their staffs have in common with 4.4 percent of the Senate and their staffs? They don’t pay their taxes. Those are the numbers for those who haven’t filed a return for at least one year or who still owe back taxes. As for you, Mr. or Ms. Average American–don’t sit there so smug. The IRS say 5.7 percent of you are tax cheats.

The WP tax cut lead is amazed by the day’s air of “inevitability,” noting the paucity of lobbying activity and quoting one Democratic congressman as saying that only one interest group–the AFL-CIO–had requested a meeting with him about the bill. But inside, the WP observes that some lobbyists were busy: A trade association memo prepared for participants in the pro-tax cut rally held in front of the Capitol yesterday stated that attendees “must be DRESSED DOWN, appear to be REAL WORKER types, etc.”