Union Jack

Union Jack

Union Jack

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 21 2004 4:30 AM

Union Jack

Everybody leads with the State of the Union, in which President Bush defended the invasion of Iraq and various domestic initiatives, including his tax cuts. The president didn't offer any significant new proposals, foreign or domestic.

As the Washington Post says up high, with an election looming, Congress probably won't pass significant bills nor will Bush push for them. So, even the few larger ideas Bush mentioned—such as creating private Social Security accounts—are essentially off the table until next year.

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Many of Bush's domestic pitches appealed to his base: He proposed increased financing for promoting abstinence and for drug testing in schools. Also, while deriding "activist judges," Bush came close to endorsing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. "Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage," he said.

The New York Times' SOTU news analysis says the White House was so intent on getting mileage out of the above proposals "that the president's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, telephoned social conservative groups on Tuesday to make sure they would be watching the speech."

An analysis inside the Post  notes that Bush tried to put a "broad range of issues"—from the war in Iraq to North Korea's nukes efforts—"under the rubric of 'the offense against terror.'  " The WP also hits the president for taking sole credit for Libya's abandonment of chemical and nuclear weapons programs: "Experts point out that for the past decade Libya had been trying to reform and reintegrate with Europe. Moreover, much of the diplomatic groundwork was laid by the Clinton administration." The Post also notes that despite Bush's talk about how everything is dandy in Afghanistan, U.S. officials say—not for attribution—that elections scheduled for six months from now might have to be delayed because of the security situation.

Bush was also, shall we say, less than completely forthright when he defended his administration's earlier statements about Saddam's supposed chemical and biological weapons. "Had we failed to act," the president said, "the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day." Bush continued, "The Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations."

Nearly all the papers let that humdinger slide. USA Today is the exception. In the kind fact-checking piece that should be ubiquitous, the paper has a wide-ranging "reality check on what Bush said on key issues." The article, which runs inside, notes that despite Bush's suggestions, the Kay report "turned up no weapons and no evidence of any advanced weapons program."

Bush also called on Congress to make his tax cuts permanent. "Unless you act, Americans face a tax increase," he warned. Back when Congress was debating the cuts, Republicans held down the cuts' projected costs by technically making the cuts temporary. Most observers considered the so-called "sunset" clauses misleading. The criticism was that Bush and congressional leaders would do what the president just did, suggest that retiring the cuts would actually constitute a tax hike. The papers' news sections used the lowball projections anyway.

The papers all note that Bush said if Congress works with him he'll cut the deficit in half within five years, in part by holding discretionary domestic spending increases to under 4 percent. Nearly all the papers, again, demur from contextualizing or scrutinizing that comment. Not WP associate editor Robert Kaiser. Appearing in a washingtonpost.com Web chat, Kaiser apparently didn't feel the need to pull punches as a daily scribe might. He wrote, "Neither the administration nor the Congress is being remotely honest about the budget figures. There is absolutely no prospect the deficit will be cut in half in five years. ... Future projections can sometimes be dicey, but at the moment, the congressional budget office, the office of management and budget and many private economists all come to the same conclusion: revenues will remain substantially below total expenditures for as long into the future as we can foresee today."

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.