Deficit Distraction

Deficit Distraction

Deficit Distraction

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 2 2006 3:11 AM

Deficit Distraction

The New York Times and Washington Postall lead with the House barely passing $40 billion in cuts, mostly to student loans, crop subsidies, and Medicaid. The Senate passed the bill in December, so now it goes to the White House for the president's signature. The Los Angeles Times also leads with the cuts but focuses on the roughly $2 billion in aid California is expected to lose. USA Todayleads with the U.S. plan to rehab Iraq's health-care system running into serious snafus. One-hundred-eighty clinics were supposed to have been built by December 2005. Number actually finished so far: four. Number that have opened: zero. USAT doesn't mention it, but it appears the administration will not ask for anymore Iraq reconstruction money.

The budget bill, which passed by only two votes and got no Democratic support, was pitched by Republican leaders as a key part of a big push to rein in the deficit. It wasn't. As the Post notes, "The impact of the bill on the deficit is likely to be negligible, slicing less than one-half of 1 percent from the estimated $14.3 trillion in federal spending over the next five years." That bit of reality comes well-past-the-fold. Instead, higher up we're treated to that ever-informative practice of dueling quotes, including this fine bit of flab from a Republican rep., "American taxpayers, and anyone concerned with the nation's long-term fiscal stability, have won a great victory today."

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The NYT plays up the politics of the close vote, then plays dumb: "The vote helped President Bush deliver on his promise to rein in federal spending." The LAT isn't so slow. It notes that not only were the cuts themselves "mild," Congress is about to pump up the deficit a bit. As the House was voting on the budget tweaking, "the Senate was debating a $56-billion tax cut that the House had already passed." The net result of the two measures would "add $16 billion to federal deficits."

The NYT off-leads the White House refusing to give the Senate its internal legal opinions on the warrantless spying program. The judiciary committee is going to have hearings next week on the spying, and Democrats along with, apparently, the Republican Chairman Specter, want the docs. "I don't think they're coming out," said a DOJ official.

The WP fronts and Wall Street Journal flags something of an attempted putsch by rank-and-file House GOPsters. In a closed-door session, House Republican leaders barely turned back a motion to force the Republican leadership to immediately stand for re-election to their posts. The motion had been expected to get little traction and ended up with the support of nearly half the 200 legislators in the room.

Both Times front about 200 people lightly wounded when Israeli settlers fought with police who were evicting them from an illegal West Bank settlement. With the police hit by stones and concrete blocks, the NYT calls it "one of the fiercest clashes among Israelis in years." Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has apparently taken a tougher stand against illegal outposts. The Israeli paper Haaretz cites sources saying a few more evictions are coming. "The policy of restraint is over," said one Israeli official. "This is a law-abiding country, and that is how everyone has to behave."

A WP editorial looks at how Bush is already fulfilling his SOTU promise to "stay on the offensive":

Somehow, Mr. Bush's "offensive" overlaps with plans for an aggressive drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, from 165,000 in December to fewer than 100,000 by the end of this year. U.S. funding for reconstruction is set to run out by the end of this year, though vital rebuilding of oil production and power generation facilities has not been accomplished. ... Afghanistan presents a similar paradox. Terrorist activity, including suicide bombings, has been increasing at an alarming pace in recent months; casualties in fighting last year were the highest since 2001. Yet Mr. Bush plans to withdraw 2,500 of the 16,500 American troops deployed there this year ...

It's impossible not to worry that in a time of testing—and as midterm elections approach—Mr. Bush is decrying retreat while quietly packing his bags.

The Journal notices that the cooperatively written Wikipedia was recently hit by some pranksters who changed the Web site's entry on Sen. Tom Coburn to say the Oklahoma Republican was voted "most annoying senator" by his co-workers. And then there was the age listed for Sen. Byrd: "180 years old." Wikipedia traced the origin of the impressive work to computers on, of course, Capitol Hill.

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