The New York Times and USA Today lead with the White House's estimate that this year's budget deficit will be $455 billion, $150 billion more than the administration projected five months ago. That's 4.2 percent of the total economy, the highest deficit since Bush's dad was in office. Not counting the Social Security surplus, the deficit would represent 5.7 percent of the economy, the second-highest since WWII. The Washington Post, which previewed the deficit numbers yesterday, leads with the presidential contenders' latest campaign-finance filings and emphasizes that President Bush is trouncing everybody else: In the past three months, Bush has raised $34 million, more than the nine Democratic aspirants combined. The Los Angeles Times leads with Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's comments that "we could well be embarking on a period of extended growth." He said the Fed would keep interest rates low "for as long as needed" to try to make that happen. The paperemphasizes that investors reacted to Greenspan comments by driving up the "very market-set interest rates" on which the economy depends for growth. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with Iraq boss Paul Bremer's comments that U.S. troops will go home after Iraqis elect their own government and write a constitution. He didn't say how long that might take.
As the papers mention, the projected deficit after this year doesn't take into account operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, currently running about $5 billion per month. USAT also flags an interesting stat that the other papers fly by: Federal spending has increased 18 percent during the administration's first two years.
The Post's Page One follow-up on the deficit focuses on the White House's estimate that over the next five years Washington will rack up $1.9 trillion in deficits. A WP editorial says that the figures given by the White House are based on "entirely unrealistic" projected spending levels. It also guesses why the White House is limiting the estimate to five years: The deficit is going to keep on trucking. According to one bank's analysis cited by the Post, the deficit will add up to $4.5 trillion over the next decade. Why does useful context like that so often get ghettoized onto the editorial page?
The NYT has a similar editorial to the WP's. It doesn't cite as many fun facts and isn't as well-argued, but it does have a nice new phrase: the president's "detax-and-spend policies." Meanwhile, the WSJ's editorial recommends chilling: "Sit down, fold your legs. Close your eyes. Take a long, deep breath, and start chanting mmmmmmm. This is no cause for political panic."
The LAT goes high with GIs' anger at news that their unit, the Third Infantry, will be staying in Iraq indefinitely. Much of the ire was aimed at SecDef Rumsfeld, who has been critical of the foot-soldier-heavy Army and has long suggested that it be downsized. "People say Rumsfeld needs to get out of office," said one soldier, as two GIs nodded in agreement. Much of the Third Infantry has been in the Gulf for a year.
The LAT's piece also has a bit of hard news, saying that, faced with manpower shortages, the Pentagon is expected to announce as soon as next week that standard deployments in Iraq will now last a year. The paper explains that during peacetime, soldiers are often posted abroad for months at a time, but "rarely" without their families.
The NYT off-leads and LAT fronts investigators' conclusion that astronauts on the shuttle Columbia likely survived for almost a minute after their final communication with ground control and almost certainly knew they were in serious trouble.
The WP off-leads, and others stuff, new SEC proposals that would make it easier for outside investors to elect corporate board members. As it stands now, says the NYT, the election of board members bears "little resemblance" to democratic elections. The proposals don't really solve that issue but would allow for candidates other than those picked by company execs to appear on initial ballots. They would also increase disclosure about how boards pick members.
A front-page NYT piece previews researchers' findings that 10 percent of new HIV infections in Europe are with drug-resistant forms of the virus. Researchers speculate that the high resistance rate is because some people are not sticking to their meds and are going back to high-risk behavior.
A Page One piece in the WP looks at why the White House felt compelled to push the uranium claims in the State of the Union despite intel services' misgivings. "Almost all the other evidence had either been undercut or disproved by U.N. inspectors in Iraq," explains the Post. Indeed, the Africa-uranium claims were the "only publicly unchallenged" piece of intel suggesting that Iraq had restarted its nukes program. Unlike in previous days, the headline gets right to that point, "BUSH FACED DWINDLING DATA ON IRAQ NUCLEAR BID." For some reason, the piece is labeled "news analysis."
For you scorecard-keepers out there, the WP has been relatively aggressive on the uranium deal and has been kicking the NYT's tushy—with the other papers barely even meriting mention. The Times has actually had some good nuggets—including today when it further details the how White House is dissembling and trying to lay more blame on the CIA—but too often, as is the case this morning, you won't find them unless you dig deep into the paper.
As it happens, the Post's piece also takes a moment to embarrass its coastal competitor. In the course of detailing how administration officials pushed the argument that Saddam's nuke program was up and running again, the WP flags a NYT piece from last September, the first sentence of which stated, "Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today." Another enjoyable sentence from the Times piece, this one flatly stated and not pegged to any officials: "Mr. Hussein's dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions along with what defectors described in interviews as Iraq's push to improve and expand Baghdad's chemical and biological arsenals, have brought Iraq and the United States to the brink of war." The prescient piece's authors: Michael Gordon and Judith Miller.