Today's Papers

Keys to the Kingdom

The Washington Postand the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with the House approving far-reaching legislation to help ease the U.S. housing crisis. The housing bill would authorize the Treasury Department to invest billions of dollars in troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to protect them from collapse, and it includes a plan that could help hundreds of thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosure. “This is the most important piece of housing legislation in a generation,” said Senate banking committee Chairman Christopher Dodd. The New York Timesleads with word that the Bush administration wants to devote $230 million slated for counterterrorism programs in Pakistan to help the country upgrade its fleet of F-16 attack planes.

USA Today leads with the Chinese government announcing that it will allow public protests to go forward during the Olympics in three specially designated city parks. But the protesters will also need a permit, and Chinese activists say it’s unlikely the government would actually grant permits for anything that is even remotely controversial. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with word that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger might issue an order that would cut the pay of about 200,000 state workers to the federal minimum wage until a budget is signed.

The housing bill passed easily after President Bush dropped his veto threat over a provision that would offer almost $4 billion to local governments to buy and refurbish vacant properties. Bush made clear he wouldn’t let it stand in the way of his signature, which virtually assures that the massive bill will become law as early as this weekend. Despite Bush’s support, a mere 45 Republicans voted for the measure that passed 272 to 152. The NYT calls the lack of support among Republicans “remarkable” and says it “suggested an emerging split” in the party as Bush is winding down his term. Many Republicans continued to say that the bill would put taxpayer money forward to rescue “scam artists and speculative lenders,” as House Republican John Boehner of Ohio put it.

The bill would raise the national debt ceiling by $800 billion, and, by temporarily allowing the Treasury Department to devote as much money as necessary to rescue Fannie and Freddie, it would immediately remove any doubt about whether the government stands behind the institutions. As a consequence, the mortgage giants would have to deal with a new, stronger regulator.

For homeowners, the biggest direct boost would come through a plan allowing them to refinance expensive mortgages into more-affordable fixed-rate mortgages that are backed by the federal government. It could technically help 400,000 or more people, but the WSJ is notably skeptical because lenders wouldn’t be required to participate and would have to agree to take a loss and reduce the value of the existing loan. “[M]any are likely to conclude that they are better off proceeding with a foreclosure or offering the borrower some other means of trying to catch up on payments,” says the WSJ. The legislation would also offer around $15 billion in housing-related tax incentives, including a tax credit of up to $7,500 for some first-time buyers.

The administration proposal to help Pakistan upgrade its F-16s has raised the ire of some lawmakers who say it makes no sense to devote so much money to equipment that has almost never been used in the fight against insurgents. “Using F-16s this way is like hitting a fly with a sledgehammer,” one Senate aide said. To put it in perspective, the $230 million would represent more than two-thirds of the total amount of military aid the United States will give to Pakistan this year. Some suspect the president might be trying to get on the good side of the new Pakistani prime minster, who will be in Washington next week.

The NYT fronts a look at how local governments in China’s Sichuan Province are offering  money in exchange for silence  from angry parents whose children died when schools crumbled. Government officials are systematically pressuring parents to sign a contract that promises parents cash and a pension as long as they stop demanding investigations into the shoddy construction of the schools. The NYT takes a look at the contract and says that it “is written as if the parents were appealing to a beneficent ruler for money” and includes lots of positive words about the Communist Party.

The WSJ fronts its latest presidential election poll, which shows things have remained relatively flat, as 47 percent of voters say they want Barack Obama to win while 41 percent prefer John McCain. But, according to the WSJ’s interpretation, “the presidential campaign looks less like a race between two candidates than a referendum on one of them.” Half the voters surveyed said they’re trying to figure out how Obama would act as president, while only one-quarter are focused on McCain. The paper then becomes the latest to write about what seems to be the emerging conventional wisdom about the race: 2008 as 1980. In 1980, voters wanted change but didn’t break for Ronald Reagan until late in the process. A similar dynamic could be at work this year as voters seem to be open to the idea of Obama in the White House but don’t know enough about him to really make him their choice yet. Of course, this gives McCain a chance to define Obama for them in a not-so-positive light.

The LAT fronts, and everyone mentions, Obama’s day in Israel, where he rushed around to meet with several leaders (“Obama tried his hand at a practice round of shuttle diplomacy,” says the NYT). The Post says it was this leg of the trip “that was the most sensitive and the most meticulously planned” by the campaign, which illustrates the concerns about support for Obama in the Jewish community. The LAT highlights that Obama was received warmly by Israelis, and no Jewish leaders even privately mentioned concerns over his commitment to Israel’s security or his willingness to talk more openly with Iran. “That left McCain out of sync with Israeli leaders in condemning Obama as weak on Iran,” says the LAT.

In a blunt piece inside, the Post notes, “In this campaign, it seems, McCain just can’t catch a break.” He was supposed to go to an oil rig yesterday but had to cancel. Now, while Obama will likely be greeted by huge crowds in Germany, McCain will be in Ohio, “speaking at a nighttime cancer event.” The only really good news for McCain this week was that the NYT rejected his op-ed piece, which gave him an easy way to criticize the media. But the bad luck keeps coming. The WP notes that although Obama will speak at the Democratic National Convention on the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, McCain’s will fall on the opening night of the NFL season.

Early reports reveal that motor-racing boss Max Mosley won his much-discussed privacy lawsuit today against a newspaper that had accused him of participating in a “sick Nazi orgy.” The Sunday tabloid now has to pay Mosley 60,000 pounds (around $120,000) in damages. “It has to be recognized that no amount of damages can fully compensate the claimant for the damage done,” the judge said. “He is hardly exaggerating when he says that his life was ruined.”