Everyone leads with the contentious predawn vote in the House to pass the Republican-backed $400 billion Medicare bill. The bill would prompt the biggest change in Medicare since the program began in 1965, and its final passage would mark a significant victory for President Bush on an issue that has traditionally been associated with Democrats. The legislation would restructure Medicare and offer a new drug benefit to 40 million elderly and disabled Americans. It would also mandate the first-ever federal payments for outpatient drug costs and allow for the creation of tax-sheltered health savings accounts.
Democrats decried the House vote, which came after aggressive strong-arm tactics by Republican leaders desperate to win over conservatives hesitant to expand the program. After Democrats saw their slim advantage slip away during a roll-call vote that was held open for nearly three hours, party leaders complained that the decision was illegitimate. The legislation now faces a difficult fight and possible filibuster in the Senate. The New York Times says the White House has been trying to get the Medicare bill and (stalled) energy bill off the table in order to ensure that national security and the economy are the central issues in the 2004 election campaign.
The Washington Post off-leads the “velvet revolution” in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where protesters stormed parliament and occupied the headquarters of President Eduard Shevardnadze, who fled but vowed not to resign. Shevardnadze characterized the occupation as an “armed coup d’etat,” but eyewitnesses say opposition leaders entered parliament clutching only flowers. The confrontation came after three weeks of protests following parliamentary elections that many Georgians, as well as the State Department, believe were rigged. Shevardnadze has traditionally had support in Washington, thanks largely to his role in helping to end the Cold War as foreign minister to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The Los Angeles Times off-leads the latest suicide bombings in Iraq, which killed at least 14 people and ripped apart two police stations north of Baghdad. (The WP puts the story on A23.) Insurgents also hit a DHL cargo jet with what was likely a surface-to-air missile, though the plane, which had just taken off from Baghdad’s airport, was able to return safely to the runway. The suicide attacks took place in the villages of Khan Bani Saad and Baqubah, and may signal that tighter security in Baghdad has driven attackers to seek out new, softer targets. Several Iraqi policemen told the NYT that they needed more money and equipment if they were to have any hope of taking over more day-to-day security operations in Iraq.
The NYT fronts word that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been closely tracking the “tactics, training and organization” of antiwar protesters. In a confidential memo, the bureau instructed local police forces to report any suspicious activity among protesters to its counterterrorism squads and offered detailed analysis of demonstrators’ strategies. The FBI says it is interested in extremist elements, not law-abiding protesters, but many civil rights advocates say the effort hearkens back to the days of the bureau under former Director J. Edgar Hoover.
In a lengthy front-page piece, the WP says that much of the $324 million Congress approved two years ago to protect the Washington area against terrorism has either not been spent or is funding projects unrelated to homeland security. Some of the money has been used to buy leather jackets for D.C. police officers and a custom-made boat for a small volunteer fire department in Virginia.
LAT fronts the first piece in a three-part series detailing the ways in which Wal-Mart affects everything from the inflation rate to working conditions worldwide. The store has becomes so powerful that developing countries send emissaries to its Arkansas headquarters as though the store were a sovereign nation. The paper says that Wal-Mart has driven U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas and forced its non-unionized employees to work for wages on which it would be impossible to support a family. On the plus side, however, you can’t beat the prices.
In its “Week in Review” section, the NYT reprints open letters that appeared in the liberal Guardian newspaper during President Bush’s just-finished trip to London. A self-employed builder named George Bush has kind words for the president, thanks in large part to all the free advertising he’s gotten recently. Twelve-year-old Mickey, however, offers nothing but vitriol: “I would just like to say how much I hate you.” Sebastian Coe, a Conservative M.P., forgoes personal judgments, instead giving the president advice on how a daily jog might help him grapple with the tough decisions. “As a runner, you have the advantage over others,” he writes, “knowing that the road is often undulating and the gradient and surface uncertain.”