Today's Papers

Stimulating Problems

The New York Timesleads, and the rest of the papers mention, word that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is expected to throw his support behind the idea of an economic stimulus package when he goes before Congress today. He’s not going to say which plan he likes best, but has told lawmakers that even if it boosts the federal deficit, a stimulus package could be useful if it quickly increases spending and is temporary. But the Washington Post’s leadnotes that actually reaching a bipartisan agreement on a stimulus package will be anything but easy, particularly since presidential politics is now added to the usual mix of lobbyist pressure and ideological disagreements. The Los Angeles Timessees things a little differently and is somewhat more optimistic that party leaders will be able to put differences aside to reach an agreement.

USA Todayleads with a look at how a federal law that prohibits states from regulating  employee benefits is providing an obstacle to measures that seek to  provide universal health care. Many of the plans being pushed by states and communities have been met by lawsuits because they force employers to either provide health coverage or pay a fee. Courts are reaching different conclusions and some think the issue will eventually have to be resolved by the Supreme Court. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with a look at how Sen. John McCain is counting on the military vote to win South Carolina’s primary.

Even though lawmakers don’t need Bernanke’s permission to pass any kind of stimulus package, the NYT makes clear that many would be reluctant to act “without the chairman’s blessing.” Bernanke’s approval also means that lawmakers can work with the Fed to figure out the right balance of stimulus and lower interest rates. Yesterday, the Fed released its “beige book,” a compilation of anecdotal reports from the 12 regional banks, which said holiday sales were “generally disappointing.”

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of ideas on what should be included in the stimulus package, and lobbyists from a vast array of industries are flooding Capitol Hill to make sure they get a little piece of the action. The Post reports that the staffer in charge of keeping track of lobbyist requests currently has a growing list that “exceeds two dozen significant ideas.” Meanwhile, as the presidential candidates keep discussing their plans on the campaign trail, Democratic lawmakers are increasingly concerned that whichever plan gets approved could end up helping one candidate over another. With the wide-ranging mix of opinions, it’s no surprise that some Democratic leaders fear the whole exercise could quickly become a “runaway train,” says the Post.

But while the Post sees the presidential candidates weighing in on the economy as a potential obstacle, the LAT says that since the issue is being constantly mentioned by White House hopefuls in both parties, a compromise seems likely. Many lawmakers seem to agree that failing to do anything would be bad for both parties. “Not having an agreement is a lose-lose,” House Minority Leader John Boehner said. Both the LAT and WSJ say that in order to reach an agreement, Republicans are likely to give up hopes of making President Bush’s tax cuts permanent and Democrats will be open to the idea of cutting social spending as well as drop the rule that requires new spending to be offset with revenue increases or cuts in the budget.

So all this talk about a stimulus package means everyone agrees that something has to be done to avoid a recession, right? Not so fast, says the LATin the second part of its double-story lead on the economy. Some analysts are convinced that the problems in Wall Street won’t translate to the wider economy and worry that the federal government will pass measures that are too expensive and ultimately unnecessary. At least part of the disagreement seems to be due to the fact that while the economic downturn is definitely real for some industries and areas of the country, it’s hardly all-encompassing, says the Post. The Fed’s “beige book” reported that some industries are doing rather well and while a group of analysts see signs that the economic woes will soon spread, others aren’t so sure. There’s particular concern that continued cuts in interest rates coupled with a stimulus package could lead to increased inflation by, as the LAT so eloquently puts it, “providing too much juice for the economy.”

The NYT fronts, and everyone mentions, that McCain is facing personal attacks in South Carolina, including one from a group that claims the senator cooperated with the enemy during his POW days. But as opposed to eight years ago, when the failure of his campaign to answer these kinds of attacks is widely believed to have cost him a victory in the state, he has now launched a “truth squad” to aggressively fire back. In a separate story inside, the NYT points out that while the attacks against McCain may be particularly harsh and well-organized, he’s hardly the only candidate who has to deal with dirty politics in South Carolina.

Everyone notes that Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House intelligence committee, said that it seems the CIA official who authorized the destruction of the interrogation tapes “got direction to make sure the tapes were not destroyed.” Hoekstra’s comments came after a closed session where the committee heard testimony from the CIA’s top lawyer.

The NYT reefers, and the WSJ goes high with, a new report that says the makers of the most popular antidepressants misled doctors and patients about the effectiveness of their drugs because they failed to publish about a third of their trials and selectively published the favorable results.

The Post reports that Tribune employees received a new handbook outlining policies for the workplace now that real estate mogul Sam Zell has taken over the company. “Rule #1: Use your best judgment,” which the handbook calls “the one hard and fast rule” that applies to all others. For example, rule 5.1: “Under Rule #1, you may want to think twice before you enter into an intimate relationship with a co-worker. When you start, it might seem like a good idea. It’s when you stop, or the wrong people find out (and they will) that you could discover that perhaps it wasn’t.”