The Washington Postleads with House and Senate Republican leaders settling on a $70 billion package to extend tax cuts, primarily adding another two years to the tax cut on capital gains. The New York Timesleads with a poll showing President Bush's approval rating down to 31 percent, the same number USA Todayhad a few days ago (though the Times doesn't deign to mention outside polls). Seventy percent of respondents in the NYT's poll said the country is heading in the wrong direction, the worst numbers on that question since the Times began asking 23 years ago.
USAT leads with and the WP fronts newly released Census data showing Hispanics are still the fasted growing minority, with most of the growth coming from births and not immigration. Forty-five percent of the country's kids under 5 are an ethnic minority. Right now, just about a third of Americans are members of a minority group. The Los Angeles Timesleads with yet another shot in its barrage against top HMO Kaiser Permanente's sketchy kidney-transplant operation. The latest twist: California's HMO regulator said Kaiser will have to pay for patients who want to transfer from the program.
The tax bill, which will probably be on the president's desk in a few days, made a half-hearted effort to address the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the bill "held the line on the AMT's growth, but did little to rein it in." The WSJ also points out that the bill includes a "range of tax breaks to special interests including General Electric Co. and the University of Texas."
The Post has nice Page One chart showing who would save what with the bill. A household making about $45,000 would save on average $46. Those making more than a $1 million would save on average $42,000. (Quibbles: The chart doesn't seem to be online, and the graphic could have given more detail on the source: the vaguely named "Tax Policy Center.")
The Journal and WP both go high with the White House apparently signing on to a British-led initiative to not just threaten Iran with sanctions but also offer it potential carrots in the form of increased trade and economic help. The plan, which the WSJ says "drew private grumbling from some parts of the Bush administration," doesn't seem to have many details attached to it yet. As it happens, the administration's bid for sanctions hasn't been going anywhere recently.
The NYT plays down the new Iran initiative, putting it inside the paper and, citing a State Department official, saying the offer won't include security guarantees for Iran and isn't all that different from what Europe offered last fall and Iran walked away from. (One difference this time, notes the Journal, is that the U.S. would be in on the deal.)
The papers go inside with the U.S. tentatively hopping onboard a still-vague European plan to increase aid to Palestinians by, essentially, bypassing the Hamas-led government. Israel also caught a fishing boat off Gaza that was stuffed with the largest cache of explosives headed to the Palestinian territories since 2002.
A suicide bomb went off at a market in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, killing about 20, mostly women and children. The WP says the bomber "attracted a crowd by hawking flour at half-price from a pickup truck."
The NYT flags the latest trend in Baghdad: Sunnis creating neighborhood-watch-groups-cum-militias to keep out government commandos, who often operate as death squads. One interesting twist flagged by the Times (and TP a few weeks ago): Local groups seem to have fairly cordial relationships with the Iraqi army, which they consider less sectarian and more trustworthy than the Interior Ministry's commandos.
Only the Journal goes high with an NGO study detailing the U.S.'s unimpressive ranking in infant mortality. The only industrialized country with a worse rate: Latvia.
An op-ed in the Journal by longtime British politician and international analyst Chris Patten says the biggest problem in Afghanistan isn't inside its borders. It's Pakistan:
Afghanistan will never be stable unless Pakistan's military government is replaced with a democracy. ...
One needs only to look at the [Pakistani] military's close relations with religious radicals to understand how unreliable a partner it is in stabilizing Afghanistan. Militant Islamist groups that Mr. Musharraf banned under the international spotlight following 9/11 and the 7/7 London bombings still operate freely. Jihadi organizations have been allowed to dominate relief efforts in the aftermath of the October 2005 earthquake. The military has repeatedly rigged elections, including the 2002 polls, to benefit the religious parties over their moderate, democratic alternatives.
In short, Pakistan is ruled by a military dictatorship in cahoots with violent Islamist extremists. The military has no interest in democracy at home, so why does the outside world expect it to help build democracy next door?