Everybody leads with the Senate's 54-44 passage of the Medicare bill, which now goes to President Bush's desk. The largest change to Medicare since its inception, the bill will include limited pill coverage, introduce very limited private competition for Medicare, and provide up to $70 billion in subsidies to corporations to encourage them not to drop coverage for retirees. The bill will cost at least $400 billion over the next 10 years and, as the Washington Post mentions up high, eventually much more.
With a few exceptions (see above Post reference), the papers' leads are uniformly uninformative, filled with back-and-forth quotes from Republicans ("the bill rocks") and Democrats ("it sucks"). You'll be just as informed if you read the leads with your eyes wide shut. Far more helpful are the various inside pieces and sidebars that get into the substance of the bill. For example, a Q&A inside the Los Angeles Times (that's right, a "news you can use" Q&A) estimates that for a retiree who has the "average" annual drug bill of $3,160, Medicare will end up covering one-third of it. Now isn't that a helpful stat?
In useful bit of Webby journalism, the LAT links to a calculator in which seniors can estimate how much money the bill will save them.
A piece inside the New York Times wonders if companies are going to be satisfied with the subsidies the bill provides or whether they're going to start tossing retirees over to Medicare anyway. If that happens—and at least the non-industry analysts quoted in the Times think it will—seniors could end up with worse coverage than they had before the bill.
The LAT cites a new non-partisan poll saying that Americans are split on the bill, though respondents 65 and older opposed it by 49 percent to 33 percent.
The WP off-leads and the NYT stuffs news that the economy grew at an 8.2 percent annual rate last quarter—even higher than the government originally estimated and the fastest rate since 1984.
Everybody mentions inside that U.S. officials said attacks on GIs have been down recently as guerrillas are turning their focus to killing other Iraqis. The NYT cites Centcom commander Gen. John Abizaid saying that attacks on GIs have gone down by about half. The Times notes that the military "did not provide precise figures."
The WP fronts and others reefer a U.N. report showing that AIDS is still skyrocketing. Last year it infected 5 million and killed 3 million, both record numbers. Still, the number of infections did fall in some hard-hit African countries. The director of the U.N. AIDS program said, "Many countries do not take AIDS seriously, and that is particularly the case of Russia, all the countries of the former Soviet Union, and several Asian countries."
In what the NYT calls a "rare rebuke" to Israel, the White House has decided to rescind $290 million in loan guarantees, about 10 percent of this year's total to the country, as punishment for either building settlements or the security fence. The Times says the White House purposely left the reasoning unclear as part of a bid to head off any political fallout. The Post calls the loan-lowering a "largely symbolic decision," since the actual effect on Israel's coffers will be very small. Israel will have to borrow money at a slightly higher interest rate, probably costing it a few million dollars.
Everybody reports that an Army chaplain detained for the past three months on suspicion of spying at Guantanamo Bay has been freed. The initial charges against him—for taking home classified info without authorization—still stand. And the military also added new charges, namely that the chaplain had an extramarital fling and had some porn on his computer. The papers all play the retreat inside. (The NYT teases it on Page One.) When the chaplain's arrest was announced, the WP, LAT, and NYT all fronted it.
The NYT story of the now porn-based case goes after a Pentagon flack for fibbing—and in the process explains what the papers had when this story started. The spokesman insisted, "At no time have we made any implications" that the chaplain might have been a spy. The Times' Neil Lewis retorts, "Unnamed military officials were quoted in numerous news reports as saying Captain Yee had apparently become sympathetic with the Muslims held at Guantanamo and had kept on his computer highly classified information. That information, they said, possibly included notes about which detainees had been questioned by which investigators and on what subjects."
The NYT says Rep. Katherine Harris, of Florida recount fame, is tossing around the idea running for the Senate. Upon hearing the news, the Times reports, White House aides "shuddered."
Back to Medicare ... For all the endless chatter from proponents and opponents, Post columnist Anne Applebaum argues that darn few people, including legislators, know what the heck is in the depths of the bill. Applebaum says that's because "the actual details—the level of the premiums, the design of the programs, the manner in which private companies are supposed to run the new drug benefit—were all worked out in the backrooms of the Capitol in the hours before the House voted on its passage." Before you get good and outraged, Applebaum says it's partly your fault, or actually the media's: "It's as if we as a nation have lost our appetite for grand domestic policy debates. ... It seems we are perfectly content not to know about it until the shouting's all over."