The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with the Senate's rejection of two rival proposals for a Medicare prescription-drug benefit, largely along party lines. The New York Times leads with the Bush administration's criticism of Israel's Tuesday airstrike, which killed a Hamas commander and 14 civilians, including 9 children. USA T oday also leads with the aftermath of the attack, but emphasizes the Palestinian response—threats of reprisals from Hamas and massive demonstrations—with a huge picture of a demonstrator carrying the body of a child killed in the strike. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with the results of a WSJ/NBC News poll showing that President Bush's general approval rating remains high at 67 percent, but more respondents now disapprove, 46 percent to 40percent, of the way he is handling problems with financial markets and major corporations.
All the papers note that the Democratic prescription drug care plan called for nearly $600 billion in support over seven years, to be administered by Medicare, while the Republican proposal would have supplied around $370 billion in subsidies to private insurance companies over 10 years. The LAT notes that either would have been "the biggest expansion of government aid to the elderly since Medicare was established in 1965." Neither proposal was widely expected to pass and there's unanimous—and growing—doubt that any legislation on the issue will be passed this year. Only the WSJ notes that the Senate should vote tomorrow on a proposal to provide $160 billion in aid to seniors whose medication bills reach "catastrophic" levels, but its story doesn't handicap that bill's chances.
All the Israel stories quote the Bush administration's criticism, delivered by spokesman Ari Fleischer, of the bombing as "heavy-handed," and they all note that this criticism was echoed by officials of numerous European and Arab states. The NYT includes an aide's statement that the president himself was "visibly angry" about the strike. USAT remarks high up that a Hamas spokesman promised revenge against Israelis "in their own homes."
A plurality of respondents in the WSJ poll also feel that the president and vice president need to further explain possible improprieties in their corporate pasts, and respondents are troubled that the administration contains so many former CEOs. The story waits until the last paragraph to note that more people still believe the administration has a better approach to getting the country out of a recession than Congress (39 percent to 30 percent), but that number has slipped from 46 percent since December.
The NYT and the WP both front articles about the roiling financial markets. The Times goes domestic, emphasizing that the Standard and Poor 500 hit a five-year low yesterday, while the Post goes abroad, noting that several key European indices have dropped even more than the Dow this year. The WP searches hard for bright spots, noting that Pakistan's markets have surged 40 percent over the year because of companies who stand to win big contracts to rebuild Afghanistan, and quoting one economist who reminds us: "Botswana's still rallying. Thailand's had a good three months."
The NYT reports on Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta's appearance before Congress yesterday, where he said that his department hadn't been given enough money to meet aviation security deadlines set in November. Additionally, the WSJ notes that the department will likely be unable to meet its goal of recruiting enough female security workers to ensure that women passengers won't have to be patted down by men.
The USAT fronts harsh (and exclusive) criticism of President Bush from the chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association, who laid into the president for planning a month-long vacation at his Texas ranch "in times of financial crisis and international crisis."
The WP front says that the Bush administration will begin a "heightened public relations campaign" to push their economic agenda during Congress's August recess. The Bushies plan to emphasize bright spots in the economy and push for greater pension protection and more executive power to broker trade agreements. The article doesn't say how they will coordinate the campaign with the president's vacation plans.
The WP front and the WSJ world news box note that two retired Salvadoran generals now living in South Florida were found culpable in a civil lawsuit for acts of torture committed 20 years ago by their troops. The $54 million-dollar verdict marks the first ruling against former commanders who appeared in court to defend themselves against a suit filed under the 1992 Torture Victim Protection Act.
Attorney General John Ashcroft is losing the support of the religious conservatives who were his strongest backers, according to the NYT. Groups like the Family Research Council and Americans for Tax Reform are increasingly put off by his big-government friendly reform of the Justice Department, as well as his "overstating the threats of terrorist attacks" and political grandstanding.
The NYT also reports that Miramax bought out the two remaining years of Tina Brown's contract for an estimated $1 million. Downplaying the tension during the partnership and the negotiations to dissolve it, Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein said "[S]he handled herself with total class, and, surprisingly, so did I."
Just Don't Ask for Stock Options: The NYT says that SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt made private requests to lawmakers this week to raise the status of his office to "Level 1," the equivalent of a Cabinet level post, by tacking a provision onto the corporate and accounting bill currently zipping through Congress. The provision, which would also entail a 20 percent raise, was "ridiculed by Democrats" and "disowned" by the White House.