Today's Papers

Losing Patients With Bush

The New York Times leads with more congressional defiance of Bush’s agenda. This time it’s in the Senate, which yesterday voted overwhelmingly to support strict safety standards on Mexican trucks that may soon be traveling on U.S. roads. Bush believes such standards violate NAFTA and has threatened to veto the Senate’s $60 billion transportation spending bill if it includes the safety provision. The Washington Post leads with defiance in the other chamber. With a number of House Republicans still refusing to back the more toned down of the two patients’ rights bills currently being considered, Bush has had to make a rare lobbying visit to Capitol Hill to try to win over members of his own party. And it’s not just on the Hill that Bush is now facing resistance. USA Today’s lead suggests that many top military brass are dissatisfied with the president’s handling of defense matters. They feel stiffed by his 6 percent increase in the defense budget, which was only half of what they requested, and sense that his tax cut will leave too little funding for the Pentagon. They’re also peeved by a number of other policy decisions, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s plans to retool the military for the 21st century, the administration’s decision to end practice bombing runs on Vieques, and Bush’s talk of curbing peace-keeping missions. The Los Angeles Times fronts none of these stories and instead leads with the EPA’s proposed changes to regulations curbing power plant emissions.

According to the NYT lead, Bush is eager to open American roads to long-haul trucks originating south of the border so that he can improve trade and diplomatic ties with Mexico. It’s also an easy opportunity to appease Hispanic voters. Though a recent study found that nearly two in five Mexican trucks failed basic safety inspections, Bush and his allies believe an inspection plan would be extremely expensive and would delay opening the border to Mexican trucks for at least two years.

Both the WP lead and a piece fronted by the NYT explain that Bush risks a major political defeat if the House passes a more liberal patients’ rights bill over the version he backs. Despite popular support for the version approved by the Senate, which makes it far easier for patients to bring lawsuits against their health plans, Bush has repeatedly said he’d veto the bill. The NYT article uses the patients’ rights bill to open up a larger analysis of Bush’s relationship with Congress. Bush “has chosen to use the slim Republican majority to stake out the most conservative positions possible to strengthen his hand in negotiations with the Senate.” The result is that GOP moderates are stuck between a rock and a hard place: defy their president or risk losing re-election. More and more, Republican moderates have been choosing the former.

At the same time as the papers are documenting Bush’s difficulties in Congress, the WP is proclaiming the strength of the president’s No. 1 opponent, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. A front-page piece says that Daschle has proved “he has the stomach for a fight.” But his sharp criticisms of the president and aggressive pursuit of Democratic priorities have some Republicans attacking him for excessive partisanship. Ironically, the WP points out, they’re saying the same things Democrats said about Daschle’s predecessor, Trent Lott, when he ran the Senate. 

The LAT lead reports that the sweeping changes to utilities’ emissions regulations proposed yesterday by EPA administrator Christie Whitman are heavily favored by industry. Her plan to scrap a number of stringent regulations and replace them with a major expansion of pollution credit trading is deemed “a significant departure from the EPA’s traditional regulatory dictums.” The NYT front-page article on the same subject downplays the EPA’s proposed regulatory changes and instead focuses on a Senate movement spearheaded by Jim Jeffords to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The NYT off-lead looks into the death last June of Ellen Roche, a 24-year-old volunteer in a Johns Hopkins asthma study. Roche’s death, which was apparently caused by a chemical she inhaled in the study, resulted in a temporary suspension of federal funding for Hopkins’ human research projects. The NYT concludes that her death was almost certainly caused by a failure of scientists and administrators to recognize that the experiment in which she was participating was unsafe. Without having to dig very far, the NYT unearthed papers referenced on the Internet that warn of the dangerous effects of hexamethonium, the chemical used in the experiment.

The WP, NYT, and USAT all front (and the LAT stuffs) the return of the American University scholar who had been seized and jailed in China last February on espionage charges. Except to report that Gao Zhan has been reunited with her family, the papers don’t have much new to add to the story.

A WP front pager says the U.S. will skip an upcoming U.N. conference on racism unless two contentious issues are removed from the agenda. Current proposals to discuss Zionism as racism and reparations for slavery and colonialism have been deemed unacceptable by the Bush administration. Bush’s critics notice a pattern in the U.S.’s new unilateralism and urge the president not to disengage from these sorts of global conferences.

A front-page NYT article reports that JDS Uniphase, a manufacturer of fiber-optic parts, will be writing off an astounding $44.8 billion in losses. The news tops the Wall Street Journal’s “What’s News” in business and finance column, which also reports on quite a few other pieces of bad news in the technology sector, including major job cuts at Hewlett-Packard. The WP puts the JDS Uniphase news on the front of its “Business” section but oddly fails to mention that the company’s reported losses are believed to be the largest in history.

And finally, an article in the WP’s “Style” section takes us inside the weeklong annual convention of the interdenominational National United Church Ushers Association of America. Competitions between teams of six ushers test the precision of their synchronicity and how well they know the hand signals they use to communicate. Unfortunately the author decodes only a couple of the silent gesticulations that make these church ushers look like third base coaches. But we do now know this: Beware when ushers smooth their hair with both hands. That means there’s trouble afoot.