Today's Papers

Powell, Right in the Kisser

The Washington Post and USA Today lead with the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s latest report, which guesstimates that the deficit will total $1.9 trillion over the next decade. That’s nearly a trillion more than projected five months ago—mostly attributable to new legislation—and about a $3 trillion swing from a year ago (due to a mix of tax cuts and new spending). It also may be low. For one thing, the model assumes that discretionary spending will increase by only 2.5 percent annually. The past three years, such spending has grown by an average of seven percent. The Los Angeles Times leads with and the WP fronts news that a preliminary report by the independent 9/11 commission has found that contrary to officials’ assertions, the U.S. had repeated opportunities to stop the 9/11 hijackers from entering the country. The heads of the FBI and CIA have long insisted that the attackers couldn’t have been spotted on their way in because they had clean records and their documents were in good order. But according to the commission, as many as eight of the hijackers had passports showing “evidence of fraudulent manipulation.” The New York Times leads with Secretary of State Powell’s razzing Russia for its democratic shortcomings.

In a point that the Post hits hardest, the budget basically hinges on whether Congress will agree to President Bush’s call to make his tax cuts permanent. If the cuts stay temporary, the CBO projects that the government will eventually climb out of the red. But if Congress votes to make the cuts permanent, deficits would likely continue indefinitely and the government will take on about $2 trillion in debt over the next decade.

In comments that none of the papers emphasize, the CBO’s head, a former Bush administration economist, said that leaving the cuts in place wouldn’t just be expensive, in the long-term they would actually hurt (a.k.a. have “a modestly negative” impact) the economy.

A Post editorial all-but accuses the White House’s budget crunchers of lunching on peyote and mushrooms. Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential candidates “look responsible only by comparison.”

In an op-ed published in a Moscow paper, Powell criticized Russia’s move away from free elections, its curbs on the media, and its war in Chechnya. The criticisms were couched in diplo-speak, but they’re still tough words considering that the White House has avoided speaking ill of President Putin. The NYT cites an administration official saying Powell’s comments were meant as a way to give Russia a brush-back without having to involve President Bush.

A Page One NYT piece notices that the White House is backing away a bit from its assertions that Iraq had banned weapons. Asked whether the administration still believes that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons before the war, WH press secretary Scott McClellan said, carefully, “I think it was the judgment of intelligence agencies around the world, as well as the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, that there were large, unaccounted-for stockpiles.”

The LAT, USAT, and NYT front the Supreme Court’s decision to revisit its 1988 ruling that the death penalty can be applied to 16- and 17-year-olds.

The papers go inside with a federal district court’s decision to overturn part of the Patriot Act. A judge ruled that the portion of the law that bans support of terrorist groups—including “expert advice or assistance”— is so vaguely written that it violates the First Amendment. The case will likely wind its way up to SCOTUS.

Just wait ‘till next year… The deficit report has plenty of juicy jaw-dropping stats. So it’s too bad the NYT headlines a misleading one: “BUDGET OFFICE FORECASTS RECORD DEFICIT IN ‘04.” The deficit is only a record when counted in absolute dollars. When it’s counted as a percentage of the economy, as only seems fair considering that thing called inflation, the deficit is still big, but it isn’t a record.