Today's Papers

A Bullet-Point Budget

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox all lead with the White House’s $2.13 trillion budget proposal, which calls for significant defense-spending increases. Everybody agrees with the Post’s sentiment that the budget would “fundamentally reorder federal priorities, navigating the government into the largest defense buildup in a generation and imposing new constraints on many domestic programs.” The New York Times off-leads the budget and insteadleads with word that one day after former Enron chairman Ken Lay canceled his appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee, legislators on the panel said they’ll vote today to send him a written invitation, in the form of a subpoena. Lay is expected to take the Fifth. Meanwhile, a House committee said it was also preparing a subpoena. In other Lay news, the former founder of Enron stepped down from the company’s board, thus ending his connections to Enron. Lay had resigned from the role of chairman last month.

The Post does the numbers on the Bush budget: “It would increase expenditures for the military by 14 percent and double spending to protect Americans at home, while essentially denying additional funds to a wide swath of the government. The plan would cut the Justice and Labor departments’ budgets and would provide no new money to the Agriculture, Commerce or Interior departments. Spending on education, the environment and space exploration would grow more slowly than inflation.”

The LAT has a fightin’ headline, “BUSH’S BUDGET OPTS FOR DEBT TO FUND WAR.” The paper goes on to note that the “mammoth $379-billion defense budget,” would mean the “largest percentage increase since the United States escalated its involvement in the Vietnam War in 1966.”

“The defense budget is cheap when one compares it to putting our security at risk, our lives at risk, our country at risk,” said Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. 

The LAT looks at another possible set of winners in the budget sweepstakes. “There were some indications in the budget that the CIA and other [intelligence] agencies could see record increases.” The paper doesn’t know for sure because the entire spy budget is classified. 

The White House’s budget projects a $106 billion deficit this year, a fact that Democrats latched onto. “This ‘bomb now, pay later’ approach is fiscally irresponsible,” sound-bited Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., in the LAT. In response, Democrats have suggested adding a trigger to the budget that would stop tax cuts if the deficit escalates.

The Post tries to decode the budget’s rhetoric: “The plan reflects a brand of conservatism that is subtler than that of the Reagan administration,” which “overtly targeted specific programs and regulations that [it] deemed excessive. In contrast, Bush’s budget, borrowing the corporate language of management efficiency, says that all federal programs must show they are effective—or risk being eliminated or redesigned.”

Thirteen paragraphs farther down in the story, the WP has some evidence that the management-speak isn’t necessarily a covert plan for budget cutting: “In a section called ‘budgeting for results,’ the document explains that the budget increases money for programs that have proven useful, including nutrition programs, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, community clinics that treat poor patients and the National Science Foundation.”

The WP announces: ENRON WITNESS POINTS TO LAY. That seems a touch unfair. The story explains that the author of last weekend’s damning Enron report told Congress yesterday, “There was a fundamental default of leadership and management. Leadership and management begin at the top, with the CEO, Ken Lay.” But he also said that the main man behind Enron’s fibbing finances was Andrew Fastow, the company’s chief financial officer. USAT plays it a bit softer, “ENRON INVESTIGATOR BLASTS SENIOR MANAGERS.”

The NYT says that Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., got feisty about the Enron-White House connection. “I’ve never seen a better example of cash-and-carry government than this Bush administration and Enron,” he said. The Times notes that Hollings then deftly deflected questions about Enron’s contributions to his own campaigns. “I got $3,500 over 10 years,” he explained. “Heck, I’m the chairman of the committee. That wasn’t a contribution. That was an insult.”

Everybody mentions that the markets took a spill yesterday on concern that other companies have Enronitis—that is, whacked accounting practices. 

The LAT reports, “Some analysts believe high corporate debt could keep any economic recovery in low gear for the next few years.” According to the paper, U.S. companies borrowed their butts off in the late ‘90s and are now saddled with about $5 trillion in debt.

The WP stuffs Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s acknowledgement that it is “entirely possible” that U.S. forces mistakenly killed some pro-government Afghans a few weeks ago. But he continued to say that U.S. troops only fired after they were fired upon.

The Post adds, “Rumsfeld said he had no information to verify reports that U.S. soldiers had already apologized and were paying the families of each man killed $1,000 in $100 bills.” If the Post is going to mention those reports—and Rumsfeld’s response—then it should tell readers the source of the claims so that readers can have a sense of how much credence to give them. The source, as it happens, is National Public Radio, which reported early yesterday that “the U.S. has already apologized and paid compensation for the raid.”

USAT front and centers a reporting pondering, “How bin Laden got away.”  The NYT had a similar piece yesterday.

The NYT says that trust is building between guards at Camp X-Ray and their prisoners, who are apparently pleased with the fabulous medical care they’re receiving.  One prisoner, who decided to have his painfully disfigured eye removed, had just one request. “He asked would I sit and have tea with him after the surgery,” explained the prisoner’s doctor. “I said, ‘Of course.’ “

The papers report that five armed Palestinians were killed in what the WSJ calls “an apparent Israeli missile attack.” Israeli officials refused to confirm that; but they did say that two of the men were wanted for an attack on Israel. 

The WSJ reports that in order to meet ballooning demand for bomb-sniffing dogs, trainers have been forced to turn to lesser breeds, like the border collie. Now, Today’s Papers used to have a collie named Bacall. (Full disclosure: A small photo of Bacall sits on Today’s Papers’ desk.)  So TP, reluctantly, understands that collies are, as the Journal says, “hardly the picture of a classic police dog.” As one skeptic told the paper, “All a border wants to do is watch sheep, and maybe some cows.”