Today's Papers

Party for the Right To Fight?

The papers find a lot of common ground today. Both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with the Senate’s passing of sweeping legislation that extends new rights to all Americans in managed-care health plans–this amidst persistent veto threats from President Bush. The bill passed by a vote of 59 to 36, with all Senate Democrats and nine Republicans voting in favor. The bill greatly expands patients’ authority to sue HMOs for damages in both state and federal courts, and “makes it easier for patients to secure a wide variety of services, including coverage for visits to the nearest emergency room, direct access to medical specialists, medically necessary prescription drugs and clinical trials for experimental treatments,” according to the WP. The New York Times off-leads the bill, and goes instead with Vice President Dick Cheney’s announcement yesterday that his doctors will likely implant a small electronic pacemaker in his chest during an operation later today. Cheney will have the procedure provided the tests he undergoes this morning show that his heart is at risk of developing a potentially deadly rhythm.

The papers agree that the Senate bill sets unprecedented federal standards for managed-care insurance. They also agree that the opposition to the bill comes largely from the power it extends to patients to sue insurers and HMOs that fail to meet said standards. All the papers carry President Bush’s criticism that the Senate bill “failed to address the danger that excessive, unlimited litigation in state courts could drive up premium costs and cause many Americans to lose their health insurance” (NYT). Further, Bush says he won’t sign the bill since it “puts the interest of trial lawyers before the interests of patients” (NYT). Yet all the papers refer to polls that find the American public in favor of federal regulation of HMOs. And the NYT recalls Bush’s own support of such controls during the campaign.

According to the WP, the legislators compromised on issues like curtailing lawsuits against employers and curbing class-action suits, while maintaining the bill’s “core provisions.” All the papers carry Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s suggestion that Bush “reconsider” his veto threat in light of these changes. The coverage agrees that the legislation is a victory for the new Democratic majority, for Daschle, for Bill Clinton (who pushed hard for a similar bill in 1997), and for Sen. John McCain, the bill’s chief Republican sponsor. The debate will resume later this summer in the House of Representatives, which will consider a similar bill or a less stringent Republican proposition. If the House opts for a significantly different bill, says the WP, the legislation “could die in negotiations between the two chambers, which is what happened two years ago.” The papers all observe that the Senate bill does nothing for the more than 44 million uninsured Americans.

Regarding Cheney’s health care, which the LAT and WP both cover above the fold, the papers explain that today’s procedure was prompted by recent cardio monitoring that detected periods of abnormally fast heart rhythms. During a press conference yesterday, Cheney assured listeners that he “would be the first to step down” if his doctors considered these developments any threat to his ability to perform his job. The operation will last about three hours, and Cheney expects to return to work on Monday.The veep also joked that the battery-powered gadget (an implantable cardioverter defibrillator), is “already an energy-efficient device” (NYT). The NYT fronts a related story that details the function of the ICD, which is implanted below the collarbone. The device, which about 150,000 Americans have, works both as a pacemaker, speeding up slow beats, and a defibrillator, slowing abnormally fast beats.

All the papers front follow-ups on the extradition late this week of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, which resulted in the resignation yesterday of five of the Yugoslav government’s top officials, including Prime Minister Zoran Zizic. Zizic called Slobo’s handling “a ‘humiliation’ and an assault on Yugoslav dignity,” says the WP. The coverage explains that critics of Milosevic’s handover consider it a surrender to the West in return for the nearly $1.28 billion in reconstruction funds that Western governments have pledged to Yugoslavia. The LAT describes the “gut-wrenching” details of the international prosecutors’ newly expanded indictment of Milosevic, who is now officially charged with the deaths of 578 ethnic Albanians, up from 344. The NYT takes the pulse of the Serbian people and finds them slightly more relieved than ambivalent about their former leader’s fate. While many hope Milosevic’s indictment will end their country’s international isolation, others, according to the NYT, consider him a convenient “scapegoat for all the atrocities in the Balkan wars,” and fear that the international community may be overstepping its bounds by prosecuting Milosevic outside of Serbia.

The LAT fronts new figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration which show that carbon dioxide emissions increased last year by 2.7 percent, the largest such jump in the U.S. in years. A spokesman for the federal agency called the increase a “normal fluctuation,” but another scientist cited by the LAT disagreed, calling the increase “astonishing” and blaming it on the nation’s lack of a coherent policy for regulating emissions.

We are family: An NYT arts section feature details a scholarly debate about the nature of families in the West. The piece explains that, for the past 40 years or so, the “sentimentalist” view of the family held sway. This theory posited that the modern family of loving individuals was a product of marketplace capitalism in Western Europe, which depended on the individualism of workers and consumers. Before this, the logic went, romance was rare, wives were “baby machines,” and children under 2 were treated with “total indifference.” Recent studies, though, suggest that medieval mommies did love their babies and that the production of children has not always been the prime motivation for marriage. In Canada, this debate has erupted into gay politics, where eight homosexual couples are suing the Canadian government for the right to marry. Writing on the government’s behalf will be historian Edward Shorter, long the most vocal champion of the “sentimentalist” position.