The New York Timesleads with word that it looks like Democratic lawmakers will approve extending the National Security Agency's broad eavesdropping powers, which were temporarily granted in legislation that passed Congress hastily in August. At the time, Democrats said they had been pressured and vowed to push back when it came time for reauthorization. But now adminsitration officials appear confident they'll get the extension. The NYT chalks it up to the same old fear that many Democratic lawmakers have of appearing soft on terrorism. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally but goes high, and the Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox, with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announcing he will cut the number of troops in Iraq by about half, to 2,500, in the spring. Brown said the situation in the southern city of Basra, where British troops are based, is "calmer" and would allow troops to move out of a combat role to focus more on training and protecting supply routes.
USA Todayleads with a look at how several states are passing laws to make it easier for relief workers to cross state lines during an emergency. Lawmakers want to prevent a situation that took place during Hurricane Katrina when volunteer health workers, including doctors and nurses, were prohibited from helping out because of bureaucratic hurdles. The Washington Postleads with the resignation of Sprint Nextel's chairman and chief executive, Gary Forsee. The news was hardly a surprise, as the WSJ reported last week that the board was looking for a replacement. Forsee is leaving two years after Sprint acquired Nextel for $35 billion, a deal which many now say was ill-conceived and poorly executed.
Although it looks like the NSA will once again be given broad powers to carry out its eavesdropping activities, the administration isn't quite ready to claim victory. A Democratic bill that will be proposed in the House today would extend the powers but also "require a more active role by the special foreign intelligence court that oversees the interception of foreign-based communications," reports the NYT. Although civil liberties groups acknowledge the bill is an improvement over what was approved in August, they're not happy about the broad authority that is being granted to the NSA. The Senate's bill is still in progress but it might give in to the administration's wishes even further and grant telecommunications companies blanket immunity for participating in the warrantless eavesdropping program. This immunity question will likely become the big fight between the Senate and the House versions, as some Democrats are making it clear that's the line they're unwilling to cross.
The LAT says that while U.S. military leaders say publicly there is little British troops can do to calm the violence in Basra because it involves a Shiite power struggle, some accuse Brown of merely choosing what is best for him politically. The NYT, which also fronts the story, says some believe the withdrawal of British troops will increase Iran's influence in southern Iraq. Everybody notes that it's looking increasingly likely that Brown will pull out all troops from Iraq before the next elections.
While most countries are getting out of Iraq, the NYT goes inside with a look at how Georgia has increased its presence in the country. The tiny former Soviet republic now has a total of 2,000 soldiers in Iraq, which it hopes will help its bid to join NATO. Of course, Georgian officials "play down the idea of even an informal quid pro quo," but the soldiers that the NYT interviews make it clear that they see their service in Iraq as a way of protecting their country against any possible threats from Russia.
The WSJ goes high with, and the LAT notes, reports that the Iraqi government has asked the United States to sever all ties with Blackwater within six months and pay $8 million in compensation to the families of each victim of the Sept. 16 shootings.
The WP fronts allegations by the SITE Intelligence Group that a leak by someone within the Bush administration compromised its abilities to get information about al-Qaida. The company says it gave the administration a copy of the latest Osama Bin Laden video before it was officially released and was promised that it would be kept secret. But it was soon leaked to television news networks, which the company claims gave al-Qaida a heads up about a security breach.
The WP also fronts word that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has told private-equity firms they don't have to worry that Congress will pass a tax increase on their earnings this year. Reid insists this has to do with the limited time available in the congressional calendar, but the Post points out that private-equity firms began a huge lobbying push after word of the possible increase came out.
USAT fronts an interview with Sen. Hillary Clinton, who said she's not happy with NAFTA and that it should be "adjusted." She also said there should be a "timeout" from new trade agreements until the issue can be studied. As Clinton launched her "Middle Class Express" tour through Iowa and New Hampshire, she also talked to the WSJ about economic issues and affirmed she doesn't support the idea of a surtax to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All eyes will be on Fred Thompson today as he makes his debut on the presidential debate circuit. "He needs to verify the hope and promise that many voters have placed in him," a Republican strategist tells the Post.
The WP's Jeffrey Birnbaum reports that a lawyer has researched the question about how the new ethics rules would affect a lobbyist who wants to propose marriage to a congressional staffer. Since the rules forbid gifts, giving an engagement ring is slightly complicated. "If you want to give your girlfriend who works in the Senate an engagement ring, you are going to have to ask permission from not only her father, but also from her senator, and maybe from the ethics committee, too," the lawyer said.