The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with (and the New York Times fronts) news that House Republicans blocked a bill to overhaul the country's intelligence operations. The bill would have enacted many of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, including creating a national director of intelligence. The New York Times leads with stern warnings from President Bush (fronted by the LAT and stuffed by the WP) to Iran and North Korea about their nuclear programs.
All three papers front word that House Republicans blocked voting on an intelligence reform bill, probably killing it. The bill would have put the nation's spy agencies under the control of a Cabinet-level intelligence director with more power than the current director of central intelligence. Both parties were stunned by the "near-rebellion" from conservative Republican members. The decision is seen as an embarrassment for the president, who was hoping for a united front on terrorism. But Republican leaders worried that having a national intelligence director would leave war-fighters confused about whom to report to and objected to the removal of measures to crack down on illegal immigrants. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert hopes the bill will still pass, but key Republicans don't see much hope. The WP quotes 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean, who points out that with the support of Democrats and a fair number of Republicans, the bill probably would have passed had it come to a vote. But the notion of relying on Democrats to pass the bill was evidently too humiliating for House leaders to contemplate.
The New York Times leads with President Bush's tough warnings for the two remaining members of the Axis of Evil, Iran and North Korea. Meeting with leaders from China, Japan, and South Korea in his first summit since re-election, President Bush said that Iran is continuing to pursue a nuclear weapon. Pressured by Britain, France, and Germany, Iran agreed last week to indefinitely suspend uranium enrichment. But as the WP reported yesterday, European diplomats believe Iran is trying to stockpile hexafluoride gas, which can be enriched into fuel for an atomic bomb.
Despite the digression about Tehran, talk at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit eventually did get back to the Pacific Rim. President Bush urged Asian leaders to draw North Korea back to the negotiating table. Citing support from the assembled nations, the president warned, "The message is clear to Mr. Kim Jong Il: Get rid of your nuclear weapons programs."
Everyone fronts news that Congress agreed on a $388 billion spending bill that will fund much of the federal government in 2005. NASA and Amtrak were spared, but the EPA got slashed. Weighing in at 14 pounds, the bill almost collapsed: It bars agencies from requiring health care organizations to provide abortion services, a provision that sparked fury and threats of filibustering. But Democrats were appeased when they were promised a separate vote to repeal the abortion provision. Another flashpoint was a clause, apparently sneaked in by a staff aide and soon to be deleted, that would allow designated people to look at the tax return of any American. The White House had threatened to veto the bill if domestic spending grew by more than 1 percent, but some, um, pork nevertheless made its way in: The Missouri Pork Producers Federation came away with $1 million to convert animal waste into energy.
The papers chronicle continuing violence in Iraq as Sunni insurgents assaulted Baghdad, Ramadi, and Fallujah. In Baghdad, insurgents stormed a police station, and masked men attacked a car and killed three Iraqi officials. Some good news: A Polish woman, abducted in October by insurgents hoping to drive Poland out of Iraq, was released.
The LAT fronts word that a report by the State Department has found that the government's corrected annual report on global terrorism is still unreliable. The original report for 2003 had claimed that terrorist attacks were at their lowest levels in three decades, when in fact they were at a 21-year high. A corrected report was issued, but the inspector general's office has concluded that various agencies' definitions of terrorism are so inconsistent that the statistics cannot be trusted.
The WP fronts news that the malnutrition rate among children in Iraq has nearly doubled since the U.S. invaded. A study estimates that 400,000 Iraqi children suffer from wasting, a form of acute malnutrition. The explanation: As insurgent attacks grow more frequent, there is a decline in basic services such as clean water and electricity to boil it. And violence has caused many aid agencies, including Doctors Without Borders, to flee the country.
Carpet-Baghdad! The Los Angeles Times reports that teams of reconstructionists have arrived in Fallujah, eager to start the process of rebuilding the flattened city from the ground up. The American reconstruction office in Baghdad says it hopes to begin work in a week or two. There are a few problems: "snipers' bullets whiz through the air," "explosions are heard throughout the day," and the fact that Fallujans have been "persistently hostile." But the U.S. reconstructionists plan to make residents an offer they can't refuse: compensating them monetarily for property damage, injuries, and deaths. "It's just like in America," says Maj. James Orbock. "If someone is handing you money, you're going to go there."