Today's Papers

Lockboxing Match of the Century?

Everybody leads with the U.S. government budget situation found in the numbers released yesterday by the White House–thus revealed to be far tighter than the administration said just a few months ago. The USA Today lead says straightaway that the official figures show the sluggish economy and President Bush’s tax cut have “virtually eliminated” the part of the budget surplus not reserved for Social Security payments. The paper says that this new bad news triggered a political argument between the White House and Congress over who lost the surplus, an argument the Wall Street Journal, which puts the story atop its front-page worldwide news box, says will last “for years,” with the fights “likely to be worse” than previous budget battles. As if to illustrate, most everybody covers Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad’s immediate reaction yesterday: “This is fiscal mismanagement big time.”

Everybody notes that the new figures forecast the 2002 budget surplus to be but $1 billion when Social Security funds are not counted, compared to the $122 billion, the New York Times reminds, the White House estimated only a few months ago. And everybody points out that this new smaller pie puts big pressure on stated Bush legislative priorities, such as beefing up defense (including adding a national missile-defense system), providing a prescription drug benefit, Social Security reform, extending certain tax credits, and farmer assistance payments. Everybody has White House budget director Mitchell Daniels’ comment that nonetheless, “The nation is awash in extra money.” But as to Daniels’ explanation that much of the loss of surplus is due to spending by Congress, USAT is so ungallant as to remind that he included that spending in his previous far rosier estimate.

The papers boil the budget issue down to the tax cut versus the Social Security lockbox. Although the White House claims the Social Security lock is still on, the WSJ says that some Democrats say the Congressional Budget Office will show next week that actually, Social Security funds are being tapped this year. The NYT has the same, attributing this to members of both parties, while USAT simply states it as a fact. A little less obvious in the coverage but there nonetheless is that the White House is already proposing to use Medicare funds for the government’s operating budget.

The NYT, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post front word that President Bush is expected to pick an Air Force general, Richard Myers, as his new chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The two Times read the choice, given that Myers is the former head of the Air Force’s space command, as an expression of the administration’s commitment to moving forward on a space-based missile-defense system. The WP notes this as a possibility, but says Bush’s “personal comfort” with Myers may have been just as much of a factor.

The LAT fronts a nationwide letter-writing campaign being directed at the attorneys general of the 18 states that have joined with the federal government in the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft. The paper says the letters are being orchestrated by a group, Americans for Technology Leadership, which is partly funded by Microsoft, although MS won’t say to what degree. And, says the LAT, the AGs are “fuming” about the campaign because the “letters appear to be spontaneous expressions from ordinary citizens.” They are printed on personalized stationery using varied wording color and typefaces–and these are not, says the paper, features common in political lobbying. The story has MS officials saying they are merely responding in kind to the lobbying efforts of competitors like AOL, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems. The story notes that so-called “grass roots” lobbying of this sort works best when the letters appear to be individual efforts rather than coordinated ones, but that the letters to the AGs often feature common phrasing. Oh, and two letters to the Utah attorney general were from dead people.

The NYT runs an editorial which begins, “It is always tempting, when old warriors retire, to lament their passing from the political stage. In the case of Senator Jesse Helms, that is a temptation to be resisted.” Wills are apparently weaker over at the WSJ, which runs a Helms op-ed under the headline, “Farewell to a Great Jacksonian.” It’s by someone named Walter Russell Mead at the Council on Foreign Relations who notices something everybody else on the planet missed: “Helms is one of a handful of Southern statesmen who ensured the triumph of the civil rights revolution.” Apparently, Helms’ great achievement is that, when blacks in the 60s attempted to assert their civil rights, Helms was not, unlike previous Southern erstwhile segregationists, “directly and openly involved in the murder of black political leaders.”

“Just between you and me, what’d you do with her?”USAT does a big front-page run-up to tonight’s Connie Chung interview of Gary Condit. The story says that the sit-down, which it compares to Bill Clinton’s Gennifer Flowers-driven 1992 appearance on 60 Minutes, is part of a comeback strategy not just for Condit, but also for Chung, six years after she lost her CBS news co-anchor gig.

The WP runs a “Style” fronter that starts out like many familiar heart-tugging features: “Stephanie and Larry Cohen had looked long and hard for a kidney donor for their 6-year-old. No one living under their roof was a match. They were desperate, weeks ticking by, when their frantic search finally came to a happy ending in Roanoke. Or so it seemed.” But it takes a few more sentences to realize that Stephanie and Larry Cohen are insane, because their 6-year-old is a mutt and they recently purchased another dog to provide it with a kidney. The only creature here with a fully integrated personality is that second dog, who ran away. Unfortunately, the less gifted characters in the tale have gotten the doggy donor back and the operation is still being planned. Which is great news for some veterinarian with intense home remodeling needs: The operation will cost $12,000.