Today's Papers

Something Old, Little New

The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox all lead with President Bush’s seventh State of the Union address, where very few new ideas were proposed, although the president did warn lawmakers he won’t be shy about using the veto pen in his final year. Bush began the 53-minute speech talking about the economy, but as the NYT points out, actually spent relatively little time  on “the issue that is the top concern of voters during this election.” USAT goes high with Bush’s call to lawmakers to put politics aside “in this election year” and show that the parties “can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time.” The Los Angeles Timeshighlights that while Bush started out with some bipartisanship talk, “he quickly moved on to better-trod partisan ground.” Overall, the WSJ says the president’s tone was “optimistic and mostly non-confrontational,” while the Post points out that “Bush appeared in a cheery mood” even as he seemed to recognize that the time for big policy initiatives has passed.

The LAT off-leads the State of the Union but leads with news that the California Senate’s health committee shot down Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to offer health insurance to almost all of the state’s residents. It was an ambitious plan that was widely seen as a potential national model that could be a catalyst for other states to reform their health-care systems. Only one senator ended up voting in favor of the $14.9-billion proposal as both Republicans and Democrats said the plan was too expensive. “California’s failure, after coming so close, underscores the lesson that too many states don’t have the political will or resources to reform health care on their own, and thus the need for a national solution of some kind,” the president of the Kaiser Family Foundation said.

Bush spent much of the speech talking about the recent progress in Iraq and said that although “some may deny the surge is working … among the terrorists there is no doubt.” While noting that “more than 20,000 troops are coming home” (Slate’s Fred Kaplan points out that “this would have been the case, no matter what had happened in the past year”), he also emphasized that withdrawing forces too quickly could be a recipe for disaster. Both the LAT and NYT point out that what Bush failed to mention in the foreign-policy section of the speech was particularly notable. Bush didn’t say anything about North Korea, and while he did mention Iran, there was no talk of the international effort to halt its nuclear progress.

The president vowed to veto any spending bill that doesn’t cut the cost of earmarks in half and will order agencies to ignore any pet projects that are attached to a bill and not included in the formal language of the legislation. Many Democrats met this pledge with a laugh, noting that Bush had no problem with earmarks when Republicans controlled Congress. In a separate piece inside, the NYT notes that Bush’s “threats are almost certain not to matter.” Besides potential loopholes and the possibility that agencies won’t want to antagonize the lawmakers that give them money, there’s a chance that “Congress may be so distracted” that it won’t approve any spending bills in 2009. (Slate’s John Dickerson says this was part of “an election-year fight” and Bush simply wants to portray Democrats as irresponsible spenders.)

The new proposals that were put forth by the president were decidedly modest and included money for low-income families to send their children to private schools as well as a variety of new benefits for service members and their families. Overall, “his requests were fairly small-bore,” says the Post. The speech was focused “on tying up the loose strings of his presidency before a successor takes over,” notes USAT. The NYT points out that the address “seemed little more than a brief distraction” from the presidential campaigns.

Sen. John McCain decided to stay in Florida rather than go back to Washington for the State of the Union, in a sign of just how important the battle for the state has become for the Republican contenders. Both the NYT and WP front a look at how McCain and Mitt Romney attacked each other aggressively (Romney called McCain a liberal, and the senator described his rival as a flip-flopper) throughout the day as polls show the two are locked in a tight battle for first place in the Sunshine State. Both papers point out that Romney needs to win today in order to avoid McCain’s anointment as the party’s front-runner before Super Tuesday. Florida’s primary will be the first that’s open only to Republicans, which means it could be a big test to see if McCain could win without the help of independents. The WSJ points out that older voters make up an important part of Florida’s electorate, and that could end up helping the 71-year-old senator.

On the Democratic side, the WP fronts, and everyone goes inside with, Sen. Barack Obama’s rally in Washington, where he was surrounded by three Kennedys and received their endorsements. The NYT notes that Sen. Edward Kennedy rarely mentions his brothers in public, but he did so yesterday and went as far as to compare Obama to former President Kennedy. The WSJ points out that the endorsement gives Obama strong institutional support that will be particularly important in the coming week as candidates must campaign in several states before Feb. 5.

For a more skeptical look at the endorsement, it’s necessary to turn to the NYT’s “TV Watch,” which states that the political maneuver “also served the Kennedy family interests, lending the fading clan a flash of power.”

But the political family is hardly united, and today the LAT carries an op-ed by three of Robert F. Kennedy’s children, who throw their support behind Clinton. “Like our father, Hillary has devoted her life to embracing and including those on the bottom rung of society’s ladder.”

The Post also fronts news that the chairman of the Senate finance committee unveiled a $156 billion economic stimulus package to compete with the one that House leaders and the White House agreed to last week. This new plan is slightly more expensive, and would give $500 (instead of $600) to individuals, including senior citizens living on Social Security and the wealthiest Americans. It would also extend unemployment benefits and, like the House plan, include tax breaks for businesses. The Senate is likely to pass the package, at which point lawmakers would have to get together to work out their differences. The Post says that “privately, House leaders were fuming” since they worked hard at a compromise with the White House last week in order to get a plan approved as quickly as possible.

All the papers go inside with news that five U.S. soldiers were killed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. So far, 36 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq this month, which is an increase from the 23 that were killed in December. And yet, some insist that the “war has largely ended.”