It's nearly unanimous today: the big story is an imminent budget deal. The different drummer is the New York Times, which gives front page space to the budget story, but leads with the announcement of new federal aid for New York's hospitals.
As even the headlines suggest, there is some variance from paper to paper about what exactly is happening with the negotiations. "GOP, White House Near Agreement on Budget," says the Los Angeles Times, while the NYT header is: "Speaker Sees Budget, White House Doesn't."
Even though a spokesman traveling with President Clinton in California does tell the NYT that there are still "significant issues" to be resolved, and the Wall Street Journal cautions that "Those involved in the talks.describe the emerging deal as fragile and caution it could easily collapse," the general view in the papers is that substantial progress has been made and that an actual deal could be struck between the President, the House and the Senate as early as today, with final passage coming by Friday.
And the broad shape of the likely deal is widely described. The LAT account is typical: "Negotiators appeared ready to make the [$500-per-family] child-care credit available to more low-income families than Republicans had wanted and more upper-income families than Democrats had sought. They seemed to be heading toward a capital gains compromise that would reduce the tax rate but not shield inflation-generated gains from taxation." USA Today adds: "And negotiators for President Clinton and congressional Republicans agreed on extending disability benefits to legal immigrants left out by last year's welfare reform law. Both sides also are resigned to an increase in cigarette taxes to offset costs of health care for uninsured children."
What's a little alarming about the budget deal reporting is how straight-faced the coverage is of its proposed feature of balancing the budget within five years. This was the claim made, if memory serves, for the budget hashed out between Congress and George Bush in the extended wrangle of 1990. Indeed, wouldn't it be instructive to see a list of all the budgets of recent years that have had this promised feature?
The NYT hospital story states that the new injection of federal monies would require most of New York's 3.1 million Medicaid patients to join HMOs. The Times reports that critics of the deal point out that New York City has a glut of empty hospital beds and that allowing some of the underused facilities to close would cut costs just as well without forcing so many people into managed care. But the piece also observes that if the free market is allowed to determine which New York hospitals close, poor patients are the likely losers.
Howard Kurtz's media column in the Washington Post reveals that the West Virginia truck driver trotted out by Democrats just over a week ago as a specimen of the kind of person who would most benefit from the Clinton tax plan has a swastika tattoo on his arm. At a press conference featuring the trucker held July 18th by Democratic senators Jay Rockefeller and Tom Daschle, the man's Nazi ornament was admittedly seen by NBC and CNN employees and undoubtedly also by others covering it. And yet, neither network did the story, which came out only in the inside-Washington newsletter The Hill and on AP radio. In this case, says Kurtz, the press "clearly gave the Democrats a pass."