Today's Papers

Baiting Cut

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and USA Today all lead with President Bush’s press conference, during which he tried to drum up support for his flailing Social Security plan by, for the first time, supporting a specific plan to cut planned benefits. The Washington Postleads locally but off-leads the president’s pitch.

Though Bush also mentioned privatization, he focused on the solvency of Social Security. And he didn’t exactly characterize his idea as a cut: “I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off.”

As the White House detailed the proposal, the plan would entail curbing benefits for all but poor workers. It would work by making Social Security benefits increasingly pegged to inflation instead of wages, which grow much faster and is how it currently works. The idea would cut projected spending on Social Security by about $3 trillion over 75 years.

Rather than acknowledge what amount to future cuts, the president suggested something of the opposite, saying, “As a matter of fairness, I propose that future generations receive benefits equal to or greater than the benefits today’s seniors get.”

The rhetoric left papers in a tight spot, forced to contradict the president if they were going to give readers a clear and honest account. The NYT and Post deliver, the latter headlining: “BUSH SOCIAL SECURITY PLAN WOULD CUT FUTURE BENEFITS.” The LAT? Not so much: “BUSH RECASTS HIS MESSAGE ON SOCIAL SECURITY.” (Of course, the headline is accurate. It just doesn’t tell readers squat.)

The only other newsworthy bits from the press conference: The president distanced himself from social conservatives who’ve argued that Democrats are discriminating against judicial nominees for their religious views. “I think people are opposing my judicial nominees because they don’t like the judicial philosophy of the people I’ve nominated,” said Bush, who also strongly endorsed John Bolton.

The NYT and Post front Iraq’s national assembly OK’ing the Shiite-led Cabinet, though a handful of Cabinet positions were left unfulfilled. Those spots had mostly been reserved for Sunnis. About a third of the assembly was also AWOL during yesterday’s vote. While others focus on the success of the vote, the WP continues to look on the dark side: “IRAQI GOVERNMENT FAILS TO FILL SUNNI POSTS.”

Though nobody flags it up high, the head of the largest Shiite group, SCIRI, Abdel Aziz Hakim, gave a fire-breathing speech demanding renewed de-Baathification, which Sunnis hate. Hakim has no official office but is considered something of a power behind the throne.

According to early morning reports, four bombs in Baghdad killed 13 Iraqi soldiers and police and wounded about 50 people.

In a front-page exclusive, the LAT reports that the CIA has been buddying up with, and getting lots of counterterrorism help from, Sudan’s intel service. In fact, Sudan’s top spy jetted to Washington last week courtesy of the CIA. He also happens to be suspected by international observers of directing massacres in Darfur. Khartoum wants economic sanctions eased in return for its help; the administration has reportedly said no deal.

Everybody goes high with the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency telling senators that North Korea appears to have figured out how to cram a nuke on top of a missile, perhaps including one capable of reaching the U.S. He also said his agency has upped the number of nukes it estimates Pyongyang has. The Post says later in the day intel officials tried to backtrack, saying the DIA chief had misspoken. But some Senate staffers told the WP that they’ve seen the intel itself and it jibes with the chief’s comments. “He may not have meant to say it in a public forum,” said one staffer.

The Post and NYT front Congress passing a $2.6 trillion budget and agreeing on a $14 trillion, five-year (nonbinding) budget that includes $106 billion in tax cuts and some $40 billion sliced off planned growth in entitlements ($10 billion from Medicaid), the first such cuts in years. The bill also opens the way for drilling in ANWR.

The NYT goes inside with the latest on Bolton: A top State Department official told Senate committee staffers that Bolton tried to get two previously unknown State Department staffers squashed over policy differences. FWIW, there was a version of this article in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune.

The NYT fronts the case of a Japanese exec who was having trouble deciding whether to use Christie’s or Sotheby’s to sell his company’s $20 million artwork stash. Finally he made a choice: The winner would be chosen via rock, paper, scissors. Before the match, Christie’s Japan rep consulted experts, including her friend’s 11-year-old daughter. “Everybody knows you always start with scissors,” the girl said. “Rock is way too obvious, and scissors beats paper.” Scissors won.