Everybody leads with the trucelike promises scheduled to be unveiled by Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at their summit today. There won’t be a formal paper-signing ceasefire, but both sides will promise to, eh, try to stop attacks so long as the other side does too. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who’s been hanging around the region, signaled the U.S.’s re-entry to negotiations: She named a top Army general, Gen. William Ward, as “senior security coordinator” to help whip Palestinian forces into shape so that, if necessary, they can ultimately whip the militants. President Bush will also host Abbas this spring, the first meeting between the president and a Palestinian leader in nearly five years.
Abbas has convinced most Palestinian militant groups to hold off attacks, at least for now. But there’s a lot of wariness in the Israeli government about meeting Palestinian demands, such as releasing loads of prisoners, with the New York Timesciting “fierce debates” within Sharon’s cabinet.
The Washington Postalso picks up on doubts, and not just among Israelis. “I am very pessimistic,” said one Palestinian cabinet minister, who said Rice hadn’t pushed some key concerns, such as freezing settlement growth. “It was a public relations visit.”
Everybody fronts Bush’s proposed $2.57 trillion budget that has big bumps for the Pentagon (5 percent) and homeland security while taking a small knife (1 percent) to non-security domestic discretionary spending. The proposed cuts run the gamut, and some of them, such as farm subsidies, are non-starters in Congress. Among the programs to face the hypothetical scalpel: The EPA would be cut nearly 6 percent, with the biggest chunk coming from a clean-water fund. A program to help people pay their heating bills would be cut by 8 percent. And that good-for-nuthin’ bureaucracy known as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be trimmed by about 12 percent.
Of course, not all programs are facing cuts. From the Post: “Financing for the apprehension of Army deserters would double.”
Don’t get used to any of the numbers. Democrats hated the budget, while Republicans, as the Post gently puts it, reacted “cautiously.” Regarding the proposing slashing of farm subsidies, influential Republican Sen. Thad Cochran said, “Frankly, I don’t think anyone in the administration really thought Congress would go along with this.”
The proposed budget is perhaps most notable for what it leaves out: expected war costs, the couple hundred billion the administration’s estimates it would need to kick off the Social Security privatization plan, and dealing with the alternative minimum tax, which the administration has talked about. The WP’s Dana Milbank calls such negative space “a part of every budget, to be sure, but particularly big this year.”
President Bush has promised to halve the deficit by 2009. But there are no immediate plans to rein in defense spending or entitlements, which make up 80 percent of the pie. The Los Angeles Timesnotices that the proposed budget is a third bigger than the one Bush offered four years ago. The paper’s conclusion: “The era of big government is back.” One former Reagan economist told the Wall Street Journal, “This is not a serious budget if the objective is to reduce the deficit and constrain budget growth.”
The Post’s editorial page sees two ways to consider the proposed budget: “the first as farce, the second as tragedy.”
Nobody fronts the bloodiest day in Iraq since the elections. Two suicide bombs killed about 30 people. One was outside a police station in Baquba, and another was in the northern city of Mosul. Four Egyptian hostages were also released. And the Associated Press—via the Journal—mentions that elections officials conceded that complaints about disenfranchisement in Mosul are legit: “Fewer than a third” of the polling stations in and around that restive city were open on election day. The Christian Science Monitor notices which city in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province had the highest turnout: Fallujah.
The LAT has a memo suggesting that drugmaker Merck knew back in 1991 that some of its vaccines were giving babies mega-doses of mercury. That’s about a decade earlier than previously thought.
The NYT previews a government commission’s conclusions that refugees seeking political asylum in the U.S. are often treated like criminals,”strip-searched, shackled and often thrown into solitary confinement.” (Times’ words) Standards for granting asylum also seem to vary. Four percent of applicants were granted at a N.J. detention center versus 81 percent in Chicago.
Exxxcellent… A Post correction:
A Feb. 5 Names & Faces item on an Evite e-mail invitation to Michael Saylor’s birthday party was based on a copy of the invitation that had been partially forged before it was sent to the Post. The original Evite from MicroStrategy’s chief executive said the party will be “exotic, mysterious and ebullient,” but it did not say “erotic.” The original also specified “cocktail dresses” but did not say “the shorter the better.” And, the original did not end with—or even contain—the words “no one leaves alone.”