Today's Papers

Taxing Credibility

USA Today leads with suggestions from some in the Bush administration that it would favor a larger, more accelerated tax cut than the $1.6 trillion/10-year package currently on the table. The Washington Post leads with Senate passage of a bill that would make it harder to escape legal liability for debts. The paper says the vote virtually ensures that the change will become law this year. The Los Angeles Times and New York Times also front the bankruptcy ratcheting but lead local: The LAT with the secretary of energy’s saying at a Senate hearing that he believes power blackouts are inevitable in California this summer but that government price controls on energy would only make things worse. And the NYT with figures from the new census showing that New York City’s population has topped 8 million for the first time ever. The numbers mean that in the past decade, NYC has been the fastest-growing part of New York state, primarily due to steady immigration and better quality of life. Also, the latest count missed fewer people. The new info has Hispanics moving past blacks to become the city’s largest minority group.

The USAT lead reminds that Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has said that the initially proposed Bush tax cut would do little to stimulate the economy and that he’s suggested to senators they therefore might opt for a larger and retroactive cut. And the paper has the administration’s chief economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, saying that a retroactive cut wouldn’t bust the $1.6 trillion limit of the original Bush 10-year plan because it would be adding a year. But the story doesn’t have any statements on any of this from President Bush himself despite running under the headline “BUSH WANTS TAX CUT SOONER.”

The WP lead mirrors the thrust of the NYT’s coverage of the bankruptcy bill earlier in the week (and again today) when it states that the Senate’s swift passage of the bankruptcy bill “underscores the new influence business has in Washington.” The piece says, “Republicans fought off most amendments favored by consumer groups,” referring to attempts to strengthen interest rate disclosure requirements and to limit aggressive loan marketing. One big difference between the Senate and the previously passed House versions: how nice a house can be kept that’s purchased within two years of someone’s declaring bankruptcy. The Senate says one valued up to $125,000; the House says up to $250,000. The story saves until the last paragraph the actual dimensions of the problem the bill addresses: More than 1.2 million people filed for bankruptcy last year, an increase of 70 percent compared to 1990.

Both the WP and LAT front (as USAT did earlier in the week) President George W. Bush’s statement of what he’s looking for in a campaign reform bill: a ban on soft money donations from both corporations and labor unions, both of which would also be required to get permission from shareholders or members before using their funds for political activities, as well as raised limits on individual contributions to candidates and parties. Both papers note that Bush did not say he would veto the McCain-Feingold reform bill totally banning soft money about to be discussed in the Senate, with the Post offering the explanation that Bush does not want to be depicted as an opponent of reform. The NYT lead editorial comments on the president’s stance under the headline, “MR. BUSH’S REFORM SUBTERFUGE.”

The NYT fronts a development that may prove challenging to many Democrats’ long-standing support for a total soft money ban: In the 2000 elections cycle, their party raised more of the stuff than the Republicans. The story credits the Democrats’ use of the joint fund-raising committee, which can legally channel soft money into many uses that benefit a particular candidate, and cites “the star” of the technique: Hillary Clinton. The Wall Street Journal, citing figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, reports that nearly two-thirds of all the 2000 cycle soft money donations–about $296 million–came from 800 donors (either individuals, labor unions, or corporations).

The NYT fronts the apology made by China’s Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, televised across his country, for a schoolhouse explosion that killed dozens of children last week. Zhu said that contrary to his earlier blanket denial–widely undermined in Western media reports–he had since discovered that children had been forced to make fireworks at the school in 1999, although he said this practice was not going on at the time of the explosion, which he still attributes to a suicidal bomber.

The WP reports that topics not discussed at yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearings for the aspiring No. 2 at the State Department, Richard Armitrage, included: His previous statements calling for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, his views on Russia, North Korea, Japan, the Middle East, or on selling modern warships to Taiwan. But, says the paper, the senators did find time to cover his weight-lifting prowess. But give Armitrage credit for one line that, if original, should get him a Bartlett’s entry–his reference to diplomacy as “saying ‘Nice doggy, nice doggy’ until you can find a big stick.”

A letter writer to the WP notes that when the Navy recently allowed three midshipmen to resign from the Naval Academy to avoid prosecution for rape, it forgave them the $60,000-$80,000 their education had cost and that it was similarly forgiving a few years ago when two dozen midshipmen quit after being caught cheating. And then he adds that when he was honorably discharged from the Navy for becoming a conscientious objector, he had to repay his ROTC scholarship.

Buried Items of the Week: 1) A WP business section story reports on some taxpayers who are shocked when they find they owe tax bills on stock options they’ve exercised even if they haven’t sold the underlying shares yet. The story reports that “once the province of the wealthy,” such tax problems are now “reaching down to rank-and-file workers, especially those in the high-tech sector.” The story leads with and dwells on the sad tale of one Harry Oppenheimer, whose unexpected tax troubles have put a crimp in his moving plans, which the paper gets around to spelling out in the 13th paragraph: “replacing their custom-built, 35,000-square-foot home with a town house about three-quarters the size.” Oh, the humanity! 2) The WSJ fronts the delightful story of the surprising success of two college professors’ Latin translations of some Dr. Seuss books. Apparently the books are helping to enliven the teaching of the famously dead language. One high-school teacher enthuses, but in the 22nd paragraph, the story’s last, she says she can’t use the authors’ translation of How The Grinch Stole Christmas “because she teaches in a public school where Christmas-related subjects aren’t permitted.”