Today's Papers

White House Tax Evasion

The Wall Street Journal worldwide news box and Los Angeles Times lead with President Bush ruling out higher payroll taxes to fund changes to Social Security. The administration’s nascent plans to partially privatize the system are expected to cost about $2 trillion, which White House officials have said they’ll probably get via borrowing. The Washington Post’s lead flags little-discussed provisions inthe intel bill that expand the government’s investigative powers, including lowering the bar for wiretapping warrants and allowing the Justice Department to more easily hold suspects without bail. The New York Times(national edition)and USA Today lead with follow-up on the lack of armor confrontation. USAT headlines the Pentagon’s attempts to play it down: “We have a plan” to armor all vehicles, said one general at a “hastily scheduled” press conference. Though it doesn’t make the headline, the paper adds that two armor-making companies said the Pentagon has declined their offers to pick up the pace of production. The NYT highlights numbers from Congress showing that while most Humvees in Iraq have armor, only about 10 percent of the military’s trucks there are protected. (As TP mentioned early this year, the Pentagon’s proposed budget didn’t include money to armor trucks.) Everybody also notes that a reporter said he helped one of the GIs with his question.

The NYT says Bush’s no new taxes promise makes its less likely that Democrats will sign on to the administration’s plan. And some Republicans also tell the papers they’re uncomfortable with funding the changes through deficit spending. “If you borrow money, that creates a deficit for 50 years to come,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham. “It really is a tax on the future.”

Not that the White House is planning on counting it as such. It wants the likely debt to be kept off the books; that is, from being counted as … debt. “I wouldn’t view anything as a cost,” said spokesman Scott McClellan. “I would view them as savings.”

In a concise bit of background, the Journal notes that the privatization plan “doesn’t address Social Security’s fundamental long-term problem: having fewer workers financing ever more retirees as baby boomers leave the work force. That requires tax increases, which Mr. Bush has ruled out, or benefit cuts, which he has ruled out for current and near-term retirees.” 

On the other hand, the NYT notices that all the fretting might be for naught since Bush’s promise might not be much of one: “Asked whether the president’s no-tax stance included a commitment not to lift the ceiling on payroll taxes for high-income people, McClellan refused to answer explicitly.”

The Post’s Scott Wilson files on Page One after having spent a few days patrolling with GIs in Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city. His unit ran into repeated ambushes, and Wilson writes that “elections have barely registered in the frightened day-to-day life of most people” there. No voter education offices have opened in the city. And Iraqi security forces are “in shambles.” About 90 percent of Mosul’s police have deserted. One American sergeant described the Iraqi soldiers accompanying his unit as “our biggest liability. These guys are awful.”

Post op-ed columnist David Ignatius also files from Mosul and backs up Wilson’s conclusions.

A mortar attack in Baghdad killed three civilians. Another four bystanders were killed in an ambush of a U.S. convoy near Ramadi. The Post mentions that four election workers have been killed in Baghdad over the past couple of days.

The NYT mentions a secret spook project that Democratic senators are half-outing and slamming, with one calling the program “totally unjustified and very, very wasteful and dangerous to the national security.” The Times says Democratic and Republican senators on the intel committee have held back funding for the past two years, but the House has kept the spigot on. The LAT had an AP piece yesterday airing the complaints.

Que bueno …  The NYT’s Paul Krugman says there is actually a precedent for “Bush-style privatization” of Social Security: Argentina did something similar, shortly before the country’s economy collapsed.