The New York Times leads with the Senate's attempt to neutralize a burgeoning way of covertly channeling unlimited sums to political activities via its passage of a measure requiring tax-exempt groups to disclose their contributors and expenditures. The paper says the vote is the Senate's most significant action on campaign reform since 1993 when the Democrats were in charge there, and makes it clear that John McCain's newfound luster was a big factor. The top national story at the Washington Post is George W. Bush's proposals for expediting the federal budget process--biennial budgeting, a presidential line-item veto and an anti-pork commission. And the confirmation process, which Bush proposes to smooth by calling on Congress to approve all executive and judicial nominations within 60 days. The paper notes that all these are transfers of power from the legislative to the executive branch and as such, are opposed by many congressional Republicans. USA Today goes with its poll showing that 59 percent of those surveyed favor George W. Bush's proposal to allow investing part of your Social Security taxes in stocks and bonds. The paper found that support was stronger among younger respondents. It's not clear what the complete list of questions posed was, but such stories should always include the results for "Would you be for partial privatization even if the government would not replace any losses you suffer?" and "Would you be for privatization even though your investments in the market would essentially go to pay for someone else's retirement (an older person) and your own pension level would likewise depend on the investment acumen of someone else (a younger person)?" The top national story at the Los Angeles Times is the announcement Thursday by the U.S.'s three largest automakers that they will extend health care coverage to the same-sex partners of their U.S. employees (a total of some 465,000 folks, the paper says), a development the paper calls a watershed endorsement by business of gay rights. Even so, the LAT observes that 400 of the Fortune 500 do not offer this coverage. The story is also fronted by USAT and the WP. Right away, the latter limns the complexity of the move: The coverage is being offered only to those who are in a "committed relationship" for at least six months and not to unmarried heterosexual couples of any duration.
The WP fronts an officially sanctioned gay pride day at CIA headquarters earlier this week, which featured about 100 gay CIA workers and "busloads of openly gay employees from the National Security Agency." Well, maybe not so openly gay: none of the gay intel types quoted in the story allowed their names to be used. The next big issue for gays at the CIA, informs the story, is getting the government to pay some of the overseas living expenses for agents' same-sex partners.
The NYT lead goes on to report that yesterday the Senate defeated by two votes a tough bill on patient rights, which would have given patients the right to sue their HMOs and also would establish national standards for health insurance coverage. The story quotes Ted Kennedy as saying that the close vote means a tough bill will pass this year. The WSJ puts the story atop its world-wide front-page news index and goes the other way, suggesting the defeat gives the Democrats an election issue.
The two Times front word of an agreement struck between the EPA and major pesticide manufacturers to end over-the-counter sales and most non-agricultural uses of a leading insecticide called Dursban, an ingredient currently in some 800 brands of bug spray, pet collars and lawn products. Research suggesting the substance might be especially dangerous to children prompts the pullback.
The NYT fronts a disastrous finding from the two years of war in the eastern Congo: a death toll of more than 1.7 million people. Of these, 200,000 were caused by acts of violence, with the rest attributed to the war-induced collapse of health services and of the food supply.
Everybody goes inside with the White House's admission to a House committee investigating allegations of Clinton-Gore fundraising irregularities that it cannot find any backup records for messages sent to or from Al Gore's office for all of 1998 and part of 1999. A White House spokesman is quoted saying that some of the MIA messages might still turn up though.
A Wall Street Journal editorial says its about time Al Gore and George W. Bush explain where they stand on the Microsoft case. And in his WP column, David Ignatius serves up a peek at the kind of morass that awaits if Microsoft eventually undergoes the Windows/applications split. He gets unattributed interviews with two MS heavies, one who would end up on the Windows side and one who would end up on the applications side, and asks them which of the companies would work on speech recognition. Each honcho was sure the potentially gazillion dollar field fell on his side of the fence.
The WP reports that NASA's annual performance review achieves new levels of grade inflation. The agency has this to say about its Mars Polar Lander mission: "Target achieved," referring to the functionality of the craft's robotic arm. But not referring to the craft crashing and burning as it tried to land on Mars, because of a missing line of computer code.