Congress approves a one-year patch for the alternative minimum tax.

Congress approves a one-year patch for the alternative minimum tax.

Congress approves a one-year patch for the alternative minimum tax.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 20 2007 6:21 AM

Emission Impossible

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsboxlead with, while USA Todayand the Los Angeles Timesfront, Congress approving a one-year patch to protect more than 20 million middle-class taxpayers from having to pay the alternative minimum tax. Democrats had pledged to make up for the lost revenue by raising taxes, mainly on hedge-fund managers, but Republicans blocked their efforts. Coming on the last day of the first session of the 110th Congress, the failure to offset the cost of the tax measure was simply the latest example of how difficult it has been for the Democratic leadership to get what it wants in the "first Democratic-led Congress in a dozen years," says the Washington Postin its lead story.

The LAT leads with, while the WP and NYT front, the Environmental Protection Agency denying California, along with several other states, the ability to impose statewide limits on carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks. The EPA's administrator said the energy bill that was signed into law yesterday already deals with the emissions issue while avoiding "a confusing patchwork of state rules." USAT leads with new data that reveal the fertility rate in the United States has reached its highest level since 1971. While many industrialized nations are trying to deal with low birth rates, this doesn't seem to be a problem for the United States, where the fertility rate reached 2.1 last year.

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President Bush is expected to sign the patch to the AMT, but the White House was quick to criticize lawmakers by pointing out that taxpayers will have to wait longer for  refunds next year because Congress waited so long to pass the legislation. Congress has approved annual fixes to the AMT since 2001 because the parallel tax system was not indexed for inflation when it was created in 1969 and reaches more middle-class Americans every year.

It can't be denied that the Democrats in Congress ended the year with several accomplishments under their belt, including an increase in the minimum wage, new ethics rules, and the energy bill that Bush signed yesterday. In total, they got Bush's signature on four of their six major issues. But the failure to offset the AMT money and the fact that lawmakers ended up approving a war-funding bill with no strings attached was a reminder of just how much they failed to do this year. And this was particularly true with Iraq, where Democrats constantly found themselves blocked by Republicans. USAT points out that the Senate is on track "to shatter the record of bills blocked by threat of filibuster." Despite their sour mood, some Democrats are convinced that the unwillingness of Republican lawmakers to break from the White House will cost them in the elections.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to challenge the EPA's decision that denied California's request to implement its own emissions standards. There was immediate debate over the scientific merits of the decision and questions over whether the Bush administration had been successfully swayed by the automobile industry's lobbyists. The Post notes that even EPA lawyers and officials had warned that the agency would probably lose  if California were to take the issue to court.

The papers note that after the House intelligence committee threatened the CIA with subpoenas, the agency announced it will cooperate with lawmakers and will send over documents about the destruction of the interrogation videotapes. The agency also said that its top lawyer would testify, but no one knows whether the head of the CIA's clandestine service, who ordered the destruction of the tapes, would be made available for questioning. The Justice Department yesterday emphasized that it had never told the CIA not to cooperate with lawmakers and it has "no desire to block any Congressional investigation."

Both the NYT and WP mention that the White House criticized yesterday's NYT story about top White House lawyers being involved in discussions over whether to destroy the interrogation tapes. Bush's press secretary took issue with the subheading of the article that said, "White House role was wider than it said" because the White House has never commented on the issue. The NYT publishes a correction today.

The WP fronts its latest Republican poll out of Iowa, where Mike Huckabee now has 35 percent support among likely caucusgoers, while Mitt Romney stands at 27 percent. To fully appreciate Huckabee's surge, be sure to check out the graph that the paper publishes on Page One. Much of Huckabee's support seems to be coming from women, which the Post says may be "a sign that his style of social conservatism with a smile is resonating." Meanwhile, the WSJ fronts its latest national poll that shows an increasingly tight Republican race as Rudy Giuliani's lead continues to shrink; the former mayor is now tied with Mitt Romney at 20 percent among Republicans. Huckabee is within the poll's margin of error at 17 percent, while John McCain isn't far behind with 14 percent.

The NYT fronts a look at Bill Clinton's foundation and the secrecy surrounding its list of donors, which "has become a campaign issue" because some argue that money might be given to the foundation "to circumvent campaign finance laws." The NYT compiled a list of 97 donors who gave money to the Clinton presidential library, which was surely not an easy feat, and it shows how the fund-raising "has at times fostered the potential for conflict." There's no doubt that the story, which clocks in at more than 2,500 words, has some good information, but it turns out to be a confusing jumble that tries to lump in questions about whether the people who gave money at the end of Clinton's administration wanted favors from the president (shocking!) while insinuating that Hillary Clinton might have acted inappropriately when she "tapped many of the foundation's donors." It hardly seems surprising that people who gave money to Bill would want to raise funds for Hillary, does it? Or how about that trusted Clintonites who worked on the foundation would want to get another Clinton in the White House? And then at the end of the story, the NYT reveals that as part of a couple who have never made a secret of how they've always worked as a joint venture, "Mrs. Clinton played an important role in shaping both the foundation's organization and the scope of its work."

The NYT also fronts a story about how Barack Obama voted "present" instead of voting for or against a bill almost 130 times while in the Illinois legislature, which also seems to be much ado about nothing. There are suggestions that he did so to avoid stating a position on controversial issues, and while that may have been the case in a few votes, it seems the "present" votes were mostly a result of either party strategy or a law professor trying to take a principled stand on some legal questions.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.