Edwards the Third
The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and USAToday each lead with a preview of President Bush's $300 billion stimulus package. But that doesn't mean the three stories are similar. At the New York Times, the lead looks at the president's designs for Medicare. Along with a prescription drug plan, Bush officials are floating a proposal that would allow Medicare recipients to exchange their benefits for a credit toward private insurance.
According to the USAT lead, the president's 10-year plan calls for expedited tax breaks for everyone but top-tier taxpayers. Slugged with the subhead "Bush plan is sensitive to rich-vs.-poor debate," the story makes a big deal of the accelerated cuts and waits until the last paragraph to mention that the plan will also include a cut of up to 50 percent to the tax on stock dividends.
So, how much of the $300 billion is taken up by the dividend tax break? For that you need to turn to the WP: "The 50 percent tax exclusion for dividends would cost between $142 billion and $248 billion over ten years," the paper explains in a story headlined: "PRESIDENT TO SEEK DIVIDEND TAX CUT."
Administration officials tell the WP, "Senior citizens, many on fixed incomes, would receive about half of the benefits from such an exclusion." Fair enough. But given the whole rich-vs.-poor debate that is supposedly driving the president's plan (see USAT and others), one or the other paper might want to look into what a reduction in the dividend tax would mean for, say, the poorer half of senior citizens. They might, in fact, look at the Wall St. Journal, where an elegant sidebar demonstrates that "Americans earning more than $100,000 receive the bulk of dividend payments." (The story tops the WSJ news box.)
Then there is the LAT lead, which reports that the administration is considering going as high as $600 billion (twice the figure in the WP and USAT) with its 10-year plan and may include such Democrat-friendly provisions as an aid package to the states and an extension of unemployment benefits. The story points out that a stimulus of $600 billion would saddle the government with significant additional deficits at a time when the budget gap is already shaping up to be a pre-stimulus $150 billion.
The NYT lead says that the elevation of Bill Frist, M.D. as Senate majority leader has given Bush a credible spokesman for a push to revamp Medicare. The paper reminds that Frist has in the past sponsored legislation that would have allowed private companies to compete with Medicare for government dollars.
Whose health coverage may change? Not seniors'. Administration officials tell the NYT that Bush will, as promised, grandfather anyone currently enrolled in Medicare, as well as those slated to be eligible for the program over the next five to 10 years. FYI: That range leaves room for most baby boomers to be subject to the new rules.
The LAT gives front-page ink to Bush's sharp comments for North Korean leader, Kim Jung-il. "I have no heart for somebody who starves his folks," the president said. Despite the tougher rhetoric, Bush's remarks were not immediately connected to a shift in policy.
A massive NYT front-pager by Adam Clymer says the Bush administration's "penchant for secrecy ... has been striking to historians, legal experts and lawmakers of both parties." The piece covers a lot of familiar ground—Cheney and the GAO, Ashcroft and the FOIA, and so on—and includes some prickly asides: "On Nov. 1, 2001, President Bush issued an even more sweeping order under which former presidents and vice presidents like his father [emphasis added] ... could bar release of documents by claiming one of a variety of privileges."
The occasional sideswipe notwithstanding, the NYT is pretty tough on Bush. "The Bush administration's first major policy move to enforce greater secrecy could affect how its own history [emphasis added] is written," one section begins. The policy move in question: Bush's decision to conduct a six-month review before releasing "nearly all" of the 68,000 records from the Reagan presidency (not Bush's own presidency, mind you). The release was required by the Presidential Records Act of 1978, a bill whose coverage began with Reagan and placed a 20-year expiration date on presidential documents. In other words, Bush was the first person to be in the White House when a release date came due. Given that no sitting president had ever faced a deadline from this law before, is it really fair to cite the episode as evidence of a "sea change in government openness"?
David Newman is a contributing editor at Legal Affairs.