The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox alllead with the budget unveiled yesterday by President Bush, which clocks in at $3.1 trillion and will leave a deficit of more than $400 billion in both fiscal 2008 and 2009. As had been reported last week, the budget calls for a large increase in military spending as well as cutbacks or freezes in most domestic programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. Since the budget is for fiscal 2009, which begins less than four months before Bush will leave the White House, no one thinks Congress will support most of the president's plans. The New York Timesstuffs its budget story, saying that most lawmakers agreed "its value was mostly, if not entirely, symbolic." But the document does outline the challenges that will be faced by the next president as well as the fights that are likely to be played out between Republicans and Democrats in an election year.
The NYT leads with a very conversational guide to today's voting extravaganza involving 24 states. It's certainly an unconventional lead story, particularly for the NYT, but, truth be told, there isn't really anything new to say about the much-discussed Super Tuesday (candidates campaigned yesterday!) and the piece at least provides a useful guide to the day's events, even if most of it will be old news for those that have been following the race closely. The big theme is that all claims of winners and losers should be taken with a grain of salt until California's polls close at 11 p.m. ET. And even then, particularly on the Democratic side, the total delegate count probably won't be known until early Wednesday morning, if not later.
As the LAT highlights, Bush's budget immediately came under fire from lawmakers, including some Republicans, who have frequently criticized the administration's penchant for leaving out lots of spending from the document. It's also filled with rosy projections about economic growth and optimistic estimates. Even the increases in defense spending will be higher than projected since it doesn't include much of the cost for Iraq and Afghanistan. (Slate's Fred Kaplan says the real size of the military budget is $713.1 billion.) But nothing raised the ire of Democrats more than the proposed cutbacks in Medicare and Medicaid, which have zero chance of getting approved.
The Post notes that by the time Bush leaves the White House, his administration will have increased the federal debt to $9.7 trillion. Getting a handle on what such a huge number means is not easy, but the WP does a good job of putting it in perspective: "Interest on the debt next year will total $260 billion, about what will be spent by the departments of Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Justice combined."
The WSJ focuses much of its front-page budget story on what perhaps will be one of the most difficult decisions for lawmakers as well as the next administration: taxes. If Democrats want to get rid of Bush's tax cuts, which would cost more than $2 trillion in their second decade, they will have to face accusations that they're approving a huge tax increase during a time of economic uncertainty. Plus, there's also the issue of the alternative minimum tax, which the WSJ calls "a budgetary time bomb" since fixing it permanently to make sure it doesn't catch up to middle-class families could cost more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years in lost revenue.
In an analysis piece, the NYT says that the presidential campaigns in both parties aren't clear on how they would deal with the deficit while delivering on their promises. On the Democratic side, there's talk of increasing taxes on the wealthy, but that wouldn't raise enough money. For their part, Republicans talk about cutting wasteful spending but no one actually believes there's enough of that to go around. An expert tells the paper there's little candidates can do besides ignoring the problem because if they were "to face up to the long-run fiscal challenges, it would be a ticket to defeat."
This year's budget was the first to be delivered almost entirely electronically, which allowed Democrats to joke that "perhaps he just ran out of red ink." But the WSJ notes that cutting down on the printing of a document that is more than 2,000 pages allowed the government to save about 20 tons of paper, which translates into approximately 480 trees.
Although the delegate count is what really matters in deciding the nominee, the importance of winning the majority in a state cannot be discounted in terms of momentum. And several of the Republican races are winner-take-all, so winning states is definitely significant. On both sides, California could be key in figuring out how the race progresses. If Barack Obama wins the state it will be a huge setback for Hillary Clinton, particularly if figures show that he managed to pick up an important part of the Latino vote. Also significant will be if Obama comes close in New York and if Sen. Ted Kennedy's endorsement helps Obama win Massachusetts. For the Republicans, if Mitt Romney wins California he is likely to stay in the race no matter what else happens. But if John McCain wins both California and Massachusetts that will probably mean the end of Romney.
The Post's Dan Balz, in another useful piece looking at questions that today's results could answer, notes that Obama may be better positioned to win the states that will vote in the next round, although Clinton could have an advantage in Texas and Ohio on March 4. And if you haven't been paying attention, and are curious about the nuts-and-bolts of Super-Duper Tuesday (Why so many states? How are delegates divided?), the LAT publishes a useful Q&A. Meanwhile, the WSJ publishes a nice, printable graphic that would be useful to have nearby while watching the returns.
Today's must read has nothing to do with either the elections or the budget, but rather it's a NYT piece about an Afghan who was held at Guantanamo for five years and became the first detainee to die of natural causes when he succumbed to cancer on Dec. 30. The story makes pretty clear that Abdul Razzaq Hekmati was detained by mistake, and it chronicles how U.S. officials made little effort to confirm the story of a man who was considered a war hero in Afghanistan. The most amazing aspect of the story is that it seems his identity could have been confirmed by at least two high-ranking officials in the Afghan government. Although "both men are well known to the American authorities in Afghanistan," the military tribunal said they couldn't be located. Of course, the main theme that runs through the story is that if he couldn't get a fair hearing, then what chance is there for the other 180 detainees who have challenged their detentions?
The WP's Howard Kurtz interviews Rush Limbaugh, who makes it clear that if McCain is the Republican nominee he would rather see a Democrat in the White House. "If I believe the country will suffer with either Hillary, Obama or McCain, I would just as soon the Democrats take the hit."