The New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Post all lead with the White House saying that the recently passed Medicare bill will cost a third more than advertised, at least $530 billion over 10 years. The WP says the announcement "enraged lawmakers and policy analysts at both ends of the ideological spectrum." The economist who ran Medicare under Bush père told the Post, "I'm not sure I've ever heard of such a big discrepancy weeks after legislation is passed." The NYT notes that the new estimate may still be low since it doesn't take into account the bill's medical savings accounts program. The Los Angeles Times' top non-local story is an analysis saying that questions about prewar intelligence are becoming a political liability for President Bush. The NYT off-leads a similar piece. Both quote Republicans saying that Bush should start dealing. USA Today leads with the stale news that Howard Dean's and Sen. Joe Lieberman's campaigns appear to be having money troubles.
"Health costs are very volatile," said one unnamed White House official, referring to the bill's price increase. "It's difficult to predict the behavior of 40 million people in a market that does not now exist." But it may not be so much a question of revising the spreadsheets as publishing them. As the Journal noted in November when the bill was being debated, "the administration refused to release its own cost estimates, which run considerably higher in some cases" than congressional estimates. Analysts, including some in government, also had concluded that the official price tag was low. But the papers, with a few notable exceptions, overlooked that.
The NYT notices inside that Republicans are fretting again about what they—and most economists—see as the out-of-control budget. According to a report prepared by the Republican head of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, the administration's deficit fighting plan—to hold non-military domestic discretionary funding to less 1 percent growth—will save $3 billion, leaving just $400 billion or so in red ink.
The Post's off-lead announces, "HILL PROBERS FAULT IRAQ INTELLIGENCE." The story begins,
The House and Senate intelligence committees have unearthed a series of failures in prewar intelligence on Iraq similar to those identified by former weapons inspector David Kay, leading them to believe that CIA analysts and their superiors did not seriously consider the possibility Saddam Hussein no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction, congressional officials said.
What the article doesn't say until well past the jump is that it appears only Republicans on the committee are saying that. As the Post eventually notes, the committees' Democrats are considering publishing "a dissenting report," focused on how the White House used the intel. Meanwhile, according to a July story in TheNew Republic [reg. required], the Republican chair of the Senate committee structured the investigation in such a way as to keep scrutiny away from the White House.
Given the timing and sources of the Post's story, might it be part of an attempt by "congressional officials" to further the White House-friendly position that the WH did nothing wrong and that instead whatever blame there is lies with the intel agencies? And could it be that the Post is playing up that angle as a result of being the exclusive recipients of it?
Most of the papers tease on Page One news that seven U.S. soldiers were killed and three wounded in an explosion at an ammo dump in Afghanistan. Another GI is listed as missing. The military said it's not sure of the cause yet.
The WP fronts the U.S.'s release of three teens—aged 13 to 15—from Guantanamo Bay. The boys, whom the Post says were "Taliban foot soldiers," will be repatriated to Afghanistan. Seven other teenagers, ages 16 and 17, are still being held at Gitmo.
The Journal says that two panels of EPA-appointed pollution experts have warned that the administration's proposed revisions for power-plant emissions could result in "hot spots" of mercury and other pollutants that pose a particular risk to children.
A front-page USAT piece says that Iran is considering allowing a congressional delegation to stop by in what would be the first visit by U.S. officials since the country's 1979 revolution. "I hope to be able to see this happen," said Iran's ambassador to the U.N., who visited Capitol Hill this week and met with some Congressional leaders.
The NYT editorial page, which apparently does not have access to Google, has a novel thought: "WILL WE REMEMBER 2004 AS THE YEAR OF THE DEAN BUBBLE?"
Too late, you %$3@##@s ... From the NYT: "An article and a listing in the Dining section on Wednesday about ways to reduce bacterial contamination in home kitchens referred incompletely to a method of disinfecting sponges and dishcloths by placing them in a microwave oven. They should be damp; if dry, they could catch fire."