The Washington Post lead previews President Bush's thoughts on how to revamp Medicare to lower its costs: His almost-final proposal calls for Medicare recipients to join government-subsidized private health care providers in order to receive a prescription-drug benefit. The leads at the New York Times and USA Today and the top story in the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox report the day's Iraq developments, with the NYT and USAT highlighting Secretary of State Powell's comments that the U.S. will have broad support if it decides to attack. Powell's assurance that the U.S. "will be joined by many nations" follows rumblings from Germany and France that they may not go along with American plans. In contrast with other papers, who read the administration's activities yesterday as putting ever more pressure on Iraq to disarm now or else, the Los Angeles Times' lead headlines: "U.S., BRITAIN MAY GIVE MORE TIME ON IRAQ." According to "U.S. and British officials," in talks yesterday, the British foreign secretary and Powell "seriously considered" letting the inspections continue for several weeks in the hopes of getting public opinion and unsure allies to warm to the idea that Saddam is not cooperating. The NYT downplays any such talk, noting briefly in a piece inside that Powell may try to appease the French by allowing for a "couple weeks of delay" in the inspections so that an attack, if it happens, would begin in March instead of mid-February. In its lead, the NYT reports that American officials made it clear that "the United States had rejected the desire of most Security Council members for more time to allow weapons inspections to go forward."
Powell also said he thought the U.S. had accumulated enough U.N. authorization in past resolutions to attack Iraq, the papers say, but that the question of whether to seek a new Security Council resolution expressly authorizing force was still open. The White House said it was possible that France and Germany wouldn't take part in American plans for Iraq and that Bush was respectful of their positions.
The papers pick up Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz's assertion that the United States has it on good authority from multiple sources that Saddam has ordered Iraqi scientists who cooperate with the inspectors, as well as their families, to be killed. The WP's off-lead says that U.N. inspectors aren't getting the private interviews they want from the scientists, even after Iraq promised to persuade the scientists to cooperate, and some U.N. and U.S. officials suspect that Iraq is "dissuading" scientists from talking. The papers quote an Iraqi official saying his government did its best to get the scientists to do private interviews, but they just don't want to do it.
According to the WP lead, under Bush's proposal patients would still have the option of remaining in the traditional Medicare program, a provision that the administration hopes will make the proposal more palatable to Congress than other similar plans have been. Still unsettled are whether to provide a drug benefit to those who opt out of the private-care plans and how much the proposal will cost, though estimates run to about $350 billion over the next decade.
The WP front reports that weapons inspectors are "increasingly confident" that some aluminum tubes Bush has accused Iraq of using to enrich uranium—key evidence, the administration says, that Saddam is pursuing nuclear bombs—are actually used to make conventional artillery rockets. As the paper notes, a few weeks ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency suggested the same.
American officials told the NYT that the ricin that investigators found with some Islamic militants in Britain this month looks like it was destined for the food supply of a British military base. One of the militants worked for a food preparation company and had had contact with employees of at least one base.
The NYT fronts its latest poll with CBS News on the president's popularity and policies, which shows support for Bush has declined over the last year to 59 percent of Americans approving of his performance today.
The papers go inside with word that the Senate approved a $390.5 billion spending plan for the government, a 2.4 percent spending increase, most of which will go to defense.
The NYT reefers news that the Senate also voted to limit the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness Program, a plan to scan Internet mail and databases of health, financial, and travel companies to search for terrorists. Under the Senate's proposal, the project would not be deployed in the United States until Congress authorized its use.
The nominee for Bush's AIDS advisory panel whose description of AIDS as the "gay plague" made the front page of the WP yesterday has withdrawn his candidacy under pressure from the Department of Health and Human Services, the papers announce.