Today's Papers

Fudge-It Budget

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Los Angeles Times all lead with the White House’s formal unveiling of its proposed budget, which totals $2.4 trillion and has increases for national security and the military while holding steady or cutting many domestic programs. Seven of the 15 Cabinet departments would have their budgets cut. (Here’s a detailed breakdown.) The Washington Post fronts the budget but leads with a suspicious powder found in the office of Senate majority leader Bill Frist that initial tests suggest is the poison ricin. Officials emphasized that they’re still not sure. “A lot of the time these field tests are wrong,” said one. Ricin is made from castor beans and according to the Post is “poorly suited to inflicting mass casualties.” USA Today leads with a poll showing President Bush’s approval rating dipping to a record-low 49 percent. And for what it’s worth, the poll shows Sen. Kerry leading Bush 53 percent to 46 percent.

The papers note that most analysts—independent, Democratic, and Republican—view the proposed budget as a significant undercount of what the government will actually spend. But only the Journal says that straight out and right up high: “Among the gimmicks: failing to provide for the future cost of occupying Iraq, which Mr. Bush’s budget director suggests could cost as much as $50 billion in 2005; pledging steep cuts in some popular programs that Congress will probably reject; and anticipating large savings by making the federal government operate more efficiently, a timeworn budget pledge that rarely pays off as expected.” (The other papers’ fact-checking is largely saved for the retired, the underemployed, and anybody who reads inside the A-sections.)

“I don’t think you’ll find anybody in any party who takes seriously the administration’s promise to hold down spending,” one conservative economist told the NY Times. “It is all fantasy,” one Republican staffer told the LAT.

Pondering the White House’s plan to cut the deficit, the Republican chairman of the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee said, “The numbers simply do not add up.”

Slate’sDaniel Gross sees a trend: “Each year, [the president] has proposed spending one sum and then signed off on a substantially greater sum. And each year, he has promised that revenues will come in at one sum, only to see them fall far short of expectations.”

In a front-page Post interview, Secretary of State Powell says he might not have supported the invasion of Iraq had he known that Saddam didn’t have banned weapons. “I don’t know,” Powell replied after being asked if the lack of weapons might have changed his position. “It was the stockpile that presented the final little piece that made it more of a real and present danger and threat to the region and to the world.” Still, Powell said given what the U.S. thought it knew, invading was the right call. Powell also defended his now infamous U.N. speech last year. “There wasn’t a word that was in the presentation that was put in that was not totally cleared by the intelligence community,” he said.

According to a NYT Page One piece, the Army’s first official history of the invasion of Iraq concludes that there was a “morass” of supply shortages. “No one had anything good to say about parts delivery, from the privates at the front to the generals,” the report states. The Army’s 3rd Division was apparently within two weeks of becoming incapable of advancing.   

The NYT fronts Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s comments that he might evacuate most settlements in Gaza. “I am working on the assumption that in the future there will be no Jews in Gaza,” Sharon told an Israeli newspaper. Sharon didn’t put a timetable on the evacuations, but the Times says it’s possible they could begin the summer. Critics in Israel accused Sharon of just talking big in an attempt to draw attention away from the bribery scandal around him.

Still Thinking … Asked yesterday whether “the country is owed an explanation about the Iraq intelligence failures,” the Post notices that President Bush responded, “Well, first of all, I want to know all the facts. … What we don’t know yet is what we thought and what the Iraqi Survey Group has found, and we want to look at that.”