The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Todaylead with the White House widening its estimate of the current budget deficit to $427 billion, $15 billion more than last year. The president earlier had promised to halve the deficit by the end of his term. The Washington Postfronts the deficit butleads with Democratic senators swinging at Condoleezza Rice during more hearings. "I really don't like being lied to repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally," said Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota. "It's wrong; it's undemocratic; it's un-American; and it's very dangerous." The Wall Street Journal goes high with the latest from Iraq, where according to early morning reports a Marine transport helicopter has crashed. No word on casualties. The military also announced that one GI was killed by a roadside bomb near Baghdad. A senior Iraqi judge was assassinated, and the LAT says five Iraqi police and soldiers were killed during fighting in Baghdad. Insurgents also released a video of an American hostage, contractor Roy Hallums, pleading for his life.
The higher-than-forecast red ink is partially a result of war appropriations. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which put out a similar deficit estimate yesterday, also cited late-year spending increases and tax cuts. The congressional number-crunchers also flagged a "deteriorating" long-term budget outlook. They said that making the president's tax cuts become permanent, as the White House has called for, would add about $2 trillion to the hole over 10 years. (The NYT has a nice chart of the different projections.)
As a percentage of GNP, the deficit is apparently a smidge lower than last year and much lower than the Reagan-era bloat. Not that USAT, the LAT, or Postcare much. The WP's headline is typical: "RECORD '05 DEFICIT FORECAST."
The Post notices the money allocated for the war(s)—Afghanistan and Iraq—has been increasing a bit each year: $78.6 billion in 2003, $88 billion in 2004, and now $105 billion ($80 billion newly requested plus $20 billion already in the pipeline).
Yesterday, TP wondered if anybody could get the administration to explain how the $80 billion will be divvied up. Today's Post says "administration officials refused" to do so. One "senior official," though, did tell the papers that the war in Iraq is running $4.3 billion monthly and Afghanistan $900 million.
The NYT's budget piece has this iffily sourced morsel: "One military expert who has been briefed by the Pentagon said on Tuesday that part of the $80 billion would be used to establish more permanent military bases in Iraq, assuming the new Iraqi government permits" it.
Knight Ridder notices that the Shiite coalition likely to win the election has backtracked from saying it will demand a deadline for the U.S. to withdraw. The second item on its campaign platform used to call for "setting a timetable for the withdrawal." Now it says, "The Iraq we want is capable of protecting its borders and security without depending on foreign forces."
The NYT off-leads threats to potential voters. "To those of you who think you can vote and then run away," one flyer warned, "we will shadow you and catch you, and we will cut off your heads and the heads of your children." Some unknown number of the Iraqis the Times spoke with said they're voting anyway. "We are not afraid of these leaflets," said one man.
A Post piece about the U.S.-funded training of (all) political groups, gives a similar sense of determination. Minutes after a bomb exploded outside the building for one scheduled training session, nearly all those who were invited showed up anyway. "They were waiting outside in the smoke and the wreckage and the body parts," said one trainer. Citing a U.S.-funded poll, the WP says 80 percent of Iraqis plan on voting. (It would have been helpful if the paper had noted that the poll, which excluded the two most restive provinces, pegged the number of Sunni very or somewhat likely to vote at 53 percent.)
In a piece about how utility shortages are affecting the election campaign, the NYT notes that Iraq's electricity supply has been "plummeting," from a November high of 5,300 megawatts—20 percent more than prewar levels—to 3,500 megawatts earlier this month. (A gas shortage has followed basically the same timeline.)
Editorials in both the Postand NYT urge senators to vote down Alberto Gonzales' nomination for attorney general. The WP has the meatier take. After noting that Gonzales was "vague, unresponsive and misleading" during his hearing, the paper says he was much clearer in his followup written responses:
According to President Bush's closest legal adviser, this administration continues to assert its right to indefinitely hold foreigners in secret locations without any legal process; to deny them access to the International Red Cross; to transport them to countries where torture is practiced; and to subject them to treatment that is "cruel, inhumane or degrading," even though such abuse is banned by an international treaty that the United States has ratified. In effect, Mr. Gonzales has confirmed that the Bush administration is violating human rights as a matter of policy.
Flashback to the NYT two weeks ago: "GONZALES SPEAKS AGAINST TORTURE DURING HEARING."
The Journal says on Page One that President Bush has ordered a "high-level review" of relations with Russia. Despite the top play, the Journal suggests it's not a big deal, noting that such reviews are "not uncommon" and emphasizing as one "top Russia aide" to Bush said, "There will be no radical reassessment."
The Post's Howard Kurtz collars another pundit sort of on the administration's payroll. Syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher got $21,500 for doing ghostwriting and consulting on the White House's marriage initiative, which she also pushed in some columns, without of course mentioning the money. "Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?" she asked Kurtz. "I don't know. You tell me." Meanwhile, she just published a column: "I should have disclosed a government contract when I later wrote about the Bush marriage initiative. I would have, if I had remembered it."