Today's Papers

Obama Wants Grand Bargain to Tame Deficit

The New York Timesleads with a look at how the number of people receiving welfare has remained near historically low levels despite increasing unemployment and the ongoing economic crisis. A total of 18 states went as far as to cut their welfare rolls last year, which is raising fears that the government isn’t doing enough to help those in need during turbulent times. The Washington Postleads with word that President Obama and Democrats want to strike a “grand bargain” with Republicans to decrease spending over the next few years. No word yet on whether this is anything more than a pipe dream.

USA Todayleads with a look at how U.S.-funded reconstruction programs in Afghanistan continue to be plagued with problems. Only one of the six audits conducted by USAID in the last year “found a program working largely as it was supposed to,” reports the paper. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with a look at how Tom Daschle is likely to face questions about whether he improperly took gifts and trips from charities when the Senate finance committee meets today to consider his nomination to be secretary of health and human services. These questions would come on top of the ones he is expected to face about the revelation that he failed to pay more than $100,000 in taxes. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how California takes longer than almost every other state to resolve unemployment appeals. Tens of thousands of Californians are currently in limbo after appealing a rejection for unemployment benefits and being thrust into a state appeals board that is “swamped with cases, hindered by delays, mired in bureaucracy and tinged with scandal.”

When welfare was reformed under President Bill Clinton, many critics cautioned that while the new program might work well during flush times, it would fail to help those in need during an economic downturn. These critics now see the decreasing welfare rolls in many states as evidence of “an obstacle-ridden program that chases off the poor, even when times are difficult,” as the NYT puts it. Supporters contend that those in need often don’t seek help right away, but 20 states expanded their welfare rolls last year. In addition, every state expanded its food-stamp program, suggesting “a safety net at odds with itself.”

As the Senate begins to debate the massive stimulus package that would send this year’s budget deficit toward a record $1.4 trillion, more are beginning to fret about the national debt, which is increasing momentum to come up with a plan to move toward a balanced budget. But making it a reality “would require a kind of joint political suicide,” notes the WP, because Democrats would have to agree to cut social programs and Republicans would have to favor a major tax increase. Even with his high popularity, it seems unlikely that Obama will be able to usher in the type of “grand bargain” that has eluded previous administrations. It’s still too early to know whether anything will come out of these discussions, and, in fact, officials are still debating whether a special panel should be named to look into the issue. Several Republicans wanted Obama to create the task force as part of the stimulus package, but he resisted the idea, which has also faced opposition from Democratic congressional leaders.

Carrying out a grand bargain with Republicans should be much easier now considering that Obama has constantly talked about fostering bipartisanship, right? Well, it depends on what you mean by bipartisanship. In a front-page piece, the WP makes a valiant effort at explaining the White House view that the failure to garner a single Republican vote for the stimulus package didn’t constitute a failure of Obama’s efforts at bipartisanship. Some say Obama’s talk of bipartisanship has less to do with trying to find common ground with the other side than elevating the discourse so everyone can be nice to one another while they disagree. While Republicans welcomed Obama’s outreach and have generally had very nice things to say about the popular president, that tune could soon change if they get the feeling that it’s more about style rather than substance.

The NYT off-leads preliminary results from Iraq’s provincial elections that suggest secular parties gained significant ground. Although it will be several days until official results are known, it looks like Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party made gains in most provinces. If the early trends hold, it could mean that Iraqis have grown “disillusioned with the religious parties that have been in power but have done little to deliver needed services,” notes the NYT. Turnout was lower than expected, with 51 percent of Iraqis voting. The LAT focuses a story inside on the low turnout and blames it on widespread confusion over voter registration rules as well as apathy among many Iraqis. A recent government poll predicted 73 percent of Iraqis would vote in the elections.

The WSJ says that working for Lehman Bros. “has become one of the hottest jobs on Wall Street.” Sure, the company may be bankrupt, but it still has plenty of assets that need to be managed, and there is no shortage of recently laid-off finance professionals who are hankering for a job. Surprisingly, one of the biggest benefits of working for Lehman may be the job security. Since it could take more than two years to close down the firm, it “promises the kind of job security that’s a rarity on Wall Street today,” noes the WSJ. Former Chief Executive Officer Richard Fuld has been allowed to keep an office at the firm. “We asked him to stay if he has nowhere better to go,” Lehman’s current CEO said.

The WP takes a look at how a number of historians are working to change the popular image of Martha Washington as a “frumpy, dumpy, plump old lady,” as the paper puts it. These historians say that the popular view that George Washington married her for money and was really in love with Sally Fairfax ignores the fact that Martha was, well, hot and stylish. She had another suitor while George was courting her. But it’s not all about looks. Martha was also a well-read woman who apparently had a knack for business as well. “He was clearly sexually excited by her,” one historian said, adding that George was no consolation prize: “He was a hunk.”

Everybody notes that Olympic star Michael Phelps didn’t dispute the legitimacy of a photograph that was published by a British tabloid and showed him using a glass bong. In a statement, Phelps said that he “acted in a youthful and inappropriate way” and “engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment.” The photos won’t affect his swimming eligibility but could cost him dearly if his corporate sponsors decide to pull out.

The papers all give big play to last night’s Super Bowl, in which the Pittsburgh Steelers won their NFL-record sixth title by beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23. Just like the last Super Bowl, this one “came down to the final minute and to a winning touchdown pass,” notes USAT. Few are as excited as the LAT’s Bill Plaschke, who says it “was the greatest Super Bowl ever, one whose Roman numbers should have been XXL for its double-extra-large helping of theatrics and dramatics.”

As for the ads, the WSJ says that even though slapstick humor has always had its place in the Super Bowl, “this year marketers included more feel-good ads in an attempt to lift the country’s mood.” In the end, “it was the Super Bowl’s familiar belly-laugh formula that scored big.” Indeed, the NYT’s Stuart Elliott was decidedly unimpressed and says that few of the commercials “offered viewers anything special.” Although there was lots of talk of how the ads would address the current economic climate, many “would not have seemed out of place in any Super Bowl of the last decade or two.”

Despite the old formula, there is a surprise in USAT’s famous Ad Meter. Yesterday marked the first time the best-liked commercial wasn’t created by a professional ad agency, but rather by two unemployed brothers who came up with the idea for the Doritos spot as part of an online contest. The ad managed to make USAT’s annual contest interesting again after Anheuser-Busch had won 10 years in a row. “A shot to the crotch is always a big winner,” a marketing executive tells the WSJ.