The New York Times leads with AARP's endorsement of the GOP-sponsored Medicare bill, which offers a limited prescription drug plan and pushes seniors toward private providers. The Los Angeles Times leads with the inauguration of Gov. Schwarzenegger. A few hours after being sworn in, he repealed former Gov. Gray Davis' $4 billion car-tax increase—just as he had promised. The Washington Post banners and USA Today leads with D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad's conviction yesterday on all charges, including capital murder, meaning he could face the death penalty. (Editor's Note: Former Gov. Gray Davis only increased a car tax that had been cut a few years earlier and that legislation mandated be increased to the original amount if certain revenue targets were not met.)
The 35-million-members-strong AARP had opposed the Medicare bill but changed its position after GOP leaders made a few changes, including adding a provision that increases benefits for those with low incomes. "This is not a perfect bill, but America cannot wait for perfect," said AARP's chief exec. "We can always build on it in the future," another AARP official told the Post. One Republican congressional staffer told the Post that the GOP "basically threaded a needle to get a bill AARP can endorse and Ted Kennedy can't." Meanwhile, to get a rough sense of AARP members' reaction to the endorsement, check out the group's message boards. (Hint: It's not a big thumbs-up.)
A piece inside the NYT suggests that if the bill passes it will probably cost far more than the $400 billion over 10 years that Congress has allotted for it. The legislation, said one industry analyst, "is a classic election-year giveaway, a year early."
As the papers say inside, two GIs were killed and two others wounded in attacks yesterday. The WP also details how three Iraqis were killed by U.S. soldiers who mistook test fire at a gun market for an attack.
Everybody mentions in passing that U.S. forces continued using heavy armor around Tikrit. The Post says that from Sunday night until Monday morning troops carried out more than 38 attacks in the town, "destroying 15 suspected safe houses, three training camps and 14 mortar firing points."
The NYT says that a U.S. general is preparing to pull troops out of the center of the guerrilla hotbed town of Ramadi within the next month or two and instead will have Iraqis oversee security. "We will become the backup and the checkers if they aren't doing something right," said the commander. The Times notes that most of the Iraqi police slated to take over haven't had significant training.
The NYT reports inside that the U.S. government is doing a systematic reassessment of what it knows about foreign "illicit weapons" programs (NYT's fuzzy term) and that as a result it is softening some previous claims about other countries' arsenals. "The analysts are insisting that the judgments be backed up by hard evidence, not supposition," said one unnamed official. The Times says officials wouldn't talk about which countries there's been backtracking on.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the revised energy bill that is getting close to passing in Congress has $23 billion worth of tax cuts in it, three times what President Bush asked for. Many of the breaks are porky measures meant to drum up Democrats support. A Post editorial also does a good job of detailing the bill's various unneeded goodies.
The WP says on Page One that regulations enacted by Attorney General John Ashcroft are preventing the FBI from finding out details about gun purchases by people on the government's terrorist watch list. The feds recently launched a new background-check system that tells officials when people on the list try to buy a gun. But the Ashcroft-supported regulations stipulate that if the buyer actually completes the purchase (which they often are allowed to do), then the government can't get any details about the purchase. Ashcroft says that the regulations are just meant to abide by the privacy provisions of the Brady gun-control law, something the paper is clearly skeptical of. As TP noted two years ago when the provisions were first reported, Ashcroft has historically been a strong supporter of privacy rights—a point today's Post doesn't mention.
Most of the papers catch news that two Israelis were shot and killed in the West Bank last night by unknown gunmen.
Confused about the mutual fund scandal? The NYT's Paul Krugman has a helpful analogy: "You're selling your house, and your real estate agent claims that he's representing your interests. But he sells the property at less than fair value to a friend, who resells it at a substantial profit, on which the agent receives a kickback. You complain to the county attorney. But he gets big campaign contributions from the agent, so he pays no attention. That, in essence, is the story of the growing mutual fund scandal."