The New York Timesleads with news that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has approved a new rule allowing employers to either cut back or eliminate retiree health benefits when retirees reach 65 and become eligible for Medicare. The new rule comes in response to employers threatening to get rid of retiree health benefits as a whole if they couldn’t get an exemption from age-discrimination laws. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how many in the military are beginning to question whether it makes sense to buy many of the humongous “mine-resistant ambush protected” trucks for Iraq. Robert Gates made acquiring the vehicles, which can withstand roadside bombings, a top priority when he became defense secretary but now that violence has decreased, many think MRAPs would be an unneeded expense that could end up hurting the overall mission as well as be a detriment for future wars.
USA Todayleads with new Census data that show the downturn in the housing market is showing up in population flows as fewer people are moving to some of the country’s fastest-growing states. In general, more people are staying put as the growth rate in some key states, including Nevada and Florida, has decreased from last year. “The migration go-go years are over,” a demographer tells the paper. The Washington Postleads with the resumption of the Democratic presidential campaign after the Christmas break. The subhed for the piece, “As Clinton Emphasizes Experience, Obama and Edwards Call for Change,” could have been written months ago. But that’s the point, because the Post notes that although Clinton “has shifted from theme to theme” she is now back to square one, touting her experience above all else. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with the Iraqi Cabinet approving a draft amnesty bill for prison detainees. The measure could help reconciliation efforts but won’t be debated until March at the earliest.
The commission made clear that it isn’t trying to discourage employers from offering health benefits to anyone, but, naturally, the AARP isn’t happy about the new rule and a lawyer for the group says 10 million people could be “adversely affected.” Business groups welcomed the change and said that it would encourage employers to provide more retiree health benefits since companies would know that they can reduce or eliminate coverage at a later date.
Some in the Pentagon are turning against MRAPs because they’ve become convinced that traveling around in huge vehicles is not the right way to fight an insurgency when experience has shown that soldiers need to “get out and walk,” as Gen. David Petraeus has been fond of saying. The vehicles are also very expensive, which means they would have to be used in future conflicts even if they’re not needed. Some divisions are cutting back on their orders for the vehicles, and the LAT notes that the questions over the MRAPs “mark one of the first times the uniformed military has publicly pushed back against the popular Defense secretary.”
USAT and the WSJ front new data that show home prices in 11 large metropolitan areas fell more than 6 percent in October compared to a year earlier. USAT quotes an economics professor who was a co-developer of this index of home prices who said that “it looks like 1941” was the last time there was a “bigger drop than this in the housing market.” The WSJ notes the “silver lining” is that the market is making a much-needed correction and prices are getting closer to what people can actually afford.
In other economic news, the LAT warns on Page One that consumers might have to pay $3.75 a gallon for gas across the United States in a few months, which means California would likely see its price cross the $4 mark. Meanwhile, the NYT points out that these economic woes are being felt even in “once seemingly invincible marquee chains” such as Coach, Target, and Starbucks. It was once thought that these stores would be able to pass through any crisis unscathed because of brand loyalty, but it seems that during hard times many are willing to cut back on lattes.
Back to the campaign trail, it certainly didn’t take long for the candidates to get away from their positive Christmas messages and move toward the back-and-forth of aggressive campaigning. The LAT fronts a look at the Republican race and notes that most of the candidates seem to have agreed on the buzzword to attack Mitt Romney: authenticity. Mike Huckabee touted his “authenticity and credibility” by hunting pheasants in front of reporters and talking about his squirrel-eating days. Romney, meanwhile, said he was a true conservative and criticized Sen. John McCain for opposing Bush’s tax cuts and for his position on immigration. And McCain shot back: “I know something about tailspins, and it’s pretty clear Mitt Romney is in one.”
It’s clearly McCain Day in the papers today. The WP fronts a separate story on the senator from Arizona noting how the campaign that most had left for dead has made a comeback. He’s now polling in second place in New Hampshire and is aggresively campaigning in Iowa with hopes that an endorsement from the Des Moines Register can help him out in the caucus that he skipped in 2000. In the Post’s op-ed page, Robert Novak says “canny Republican professionals” view McCain “as the best bet” to win the nomination. Novak says that if Huckabee can beat Romney in Iowa, it could clear the way for McCain, whom many might conclude gives Republicans the best chance to beat the Democrats.
For its part, the NYT fronts a largely positive profile of McCain’s family, noting that although he has seven children, most of them have stayed away from the campaign. But, despite having gone through difficult periods with their father, the children largely speak well of McCain and note that he mostly likes to keep his family away from politics. Even though he has a 19-year-old son stationed in Iraq, he barely mentions him on the trail.
Meanwhile, the Post’s Dana Milbank followed Rudy Giuliani to sunny Florida and notes that although his choice of state “may have been smart in the meteorological sense, it appears more and more to be a bad political bet.” Giuliani planned to skip Iowa and New Hampshire but the consequences are all too clear in the papers this week as the former mayor of New York is barely mentioned at a time when the race is quickly changing.
Are you a smoker cursing how you have to go outside in the winter weather to enjoy a puff? At least thank your lucky stars you’re not in Anchorage, Alaska, where smokers have to get through their first winter with a new smoking ban, notes the WSJ.
Bush is turning out to be quite a good president for the calendar industry, reports USAT. The Bush Out of Office Countdown desk calendar ranks No. 2 on the humor calendar best-seller list, behind the Far Side.