The Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal all lead on Bush's proposals for overhauling Medicare. USA Today fronts the story, leading instead a special report on the legacy of the U.S. government's reckless policy for handling nuclear waste in the 1940s and '50s. The Los Angeles Times goes with a possible cover-up in the Firestone tire recall.
Bush proposed a two-part, $158 billion plan: 1) $110 billion to cover all premium costs for those with the lowest incomes and to subsidize medical costs for other low-income people; 2) immediate allocation to the individual states of $48 billion ($12 billion over four years) to help seniors buy prescription medication. In addition, $40 billion would go to doctors and hospitals to restore cuts made in recent years in reimbursements to Medicare providers. Financing for the plan would come from the federal budget surplus projected for the next decade. Gore responded that Bush's proposed tax cuts for the wealthy would make such spending impossible. The WSJ notes that health insurers and drug companies both raised concerns about possible reforms. Some health insurers worry that government subsidies won't be sufficient to pay for adequate coverage; a few drug-industry officials privately complained that states who administer aid will demand additional discounts on prescription medication.
The WP offleads (and the NYT runs inside) Gore's proposal to set aside $300 billion to establish a "surplus reserve fund." The money would be drawn from estimated revenue over the next decade and would serve as a counterbalance to what Gore sees as the inflated projections for the budget surplus. Specifics about the fund are to be unveiled today as part of a 200-page budget plan that promises to reduce poverty to an all-time low, raise family income by one-third in real dollars, and close the gender gap in salaries. For all its detail, the plan does not address Social Security reform, nor does it specify how to fund a missile defense system, which Gore favors.
In a story that the WSJ and WP front, the LAT leads on the release of a Ford Motor Co. memo that suggests Ford and Firestone knew about the tire defects that resulted in a reported 88 deaths and 250 injuries. Problems were reported in tires in Saudi Arabia as early as 1998, but the two companies may have schemed to keep the matter quiet. The Ford memo reads in part: "Firestone legal has some major reservations about the plan to notify customers and offer them an option. First they feel the US [Department of Transportation] will have to be notified of the [replacement] program, since the same product is sold in the United States. Second, they are afraid that the Saudi government will see this as a recall and react dramatically, including prohibiting the import of the current tire. They believe the best course of action for the vehicles already in the market is to handle the tire issues on a case-by-case basis." Interesting to note, State Farm Insurance notified the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about possible defects, but this information was disregarded until Firestone's voluntary recall. Congressional hearings begin today to determine when Ford and Firestone knew of the defects and whether they conspired to conceal them.
An NYT front on the Mideast talks indicates that none of the parties involved is very optimistic about the chances for progress. The primary topic on the table when Clinton meets separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders will be how to divide Jerusalem. An American and Israeli proposal centers on shared control of the holy city, but Arafat has stuck by his demand for full sovereignty. And even if Barak were able to negotiate a suitable arrangement, it is unclear, given his precarious standing among the Israeli people, that he could make it stand at home.
An LAT front-pager reports that a patent dispute is delaying the availability of Taxol, a drug that could cut $500 million annually from the cost of treating breast and ovarian cancer. A judge will review Bristol-Meyers Squibb's rights to retain 30 additional months of exclusive marketing of the drug or whether a lower-priced generic version will be made available sooner.
The NYT fronts coverage of the World Summit that begins today at the United Nations. Kofi Annan called for the three-day conference for leaders to engage in a global dialogue about problems ranging from poverty to disease to land reform. North Korea will not be represented at the talks: On the front, below the fold, the WP reports that Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's head of parliament, canceled his trip to the summit after members of his delegation were subjected to a strip search as they transferred to an American Airlines flight in Germany. Nam claims that U.S. security officials ordered the search. In making an apology for the incident, American Airlines stated that that the procedure consisted of a routine "pat down," not a strip, and that no U.S. government agencies were involved.