The president plans to halve the deficit.

The president plans to halve the deficit.

The president plans to halve the deficit.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 22 2009 6:03 AM

Barack the Knife

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with Barack Obama's first budget and his plan to cut the deficit in half by the end of his term. All of the papers note that the reduction will come primarily from higher taxes on the wealthy and lower spending in Iraq. While the Washington Post fronts the Obama plan, it chooses to lead with the more sensational news of a possible arrest in the eight-year-old murder case of Chandra Levy. The Post has long been infatuated with the Levy case, describing it as "one of the most famous unsolved homicide cases in Washington history."

The WP and LAT call the president's first budget "ambitious." Obama hopes to use the plan to make progress on health-care reform and move toward a cap-and-trade system for energy use. But the effort to "cut" (LAT), "slash" (NYT), or merely "trim" (WP) the deficit grabs the headlines. To do this, Obama will let most of George W. Bush's tax cuts expire in 2011 for those making more than $250,000. The Post alone adds a touch of skepticism, noting that some "question the wisdom of announcing a plan to raise taxes in the midst of a recession." On Iraq, Obama had previously expected to save $90 billion a year by withdrawing combat troops. But the NYT says "it is not clear how much any savings would be offset by increased spending in Afghanistan." The full details of the budget won't be released until April.

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In its coverage of the budget plan, the NYT seems to be having some trouble with the numbers (or its editing). In its early print edition, the paper says Obama's goal is to cut the deficit "by nearly two-thirds." Online, though, it says the president's goal is to cut the deficit "at least in half." Explaining the change, the paper adds a paragraph saying that the current deficit is inflated by stimulus expenses and, therefore, advisers don't want to use it as a starting point. But nine paragraphs later the Times reverts to its old formula, saying Obama's planned reductions will, in part, "simply reflect an end to spending from the two-year stimulus package."

Police in Washington, D.C., are close to arresting Ingmar Guandique, a 27-year-old Salvadoran immigrant, for the murder of Chandra Levy. Guandique is already in prison, having confessed in 2001 to attacking two women in Rock Creek Park, where Levy's remains were found. Police have new evidence implicating Guandique, but the papers are a bit confused about how they came upon it. The NYT says it's the result of an inmate serving time with Mr. Guandique contacting the police. But the WP implies that the inmate came forward in 2002. The LAT says it's "unclear."

Slate's own Mickey Kaus (who I guess is intensely disappointed) once wondered whether a wave of "media self-flagellation" would follow the clearing of former Rep. Gary Condit in the Levy case. Don't count on it. While the Post casually notes that the media became "transfixed" on the Condit-Levy affair, the paper seems much more interested in taking credit for breaking the case: "The police probe into Levy's killing ramped up in recent months after The Washington Post in July published a 13-part serial narrative investigation into the case that pointed to Guandique as the most likely suspect." At the time, many saw the series as an example of the Post "turning tabloid."

The NYT catches a court filing by the Justice Department (made late Friday) that is sure to fuel the debate over whether Barack Obama is simply continuing the anti-terrorism policies of his predecessor. In the filing, the new administration, much like the old administration, stated that detainees held in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there.

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In the same article, the NYT notes that the Pentagon has completed a review of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and concluded that the site complies with the Geneva Conventions' requirements for humane treatment. Keep that in mind as you're reading the Post's fascinating portrait of a Guantanamo detainee who enters the prison as a low-level Taliban fighter and leaves an unrepentant radical who would later blow up himself (and others) in Iraq. The evolution is captured in the prisoner's letters to his American lawyer. In the first he refers to "the learned attorney Tom" and his "nice team." In the last he addresses "the vile, depraved Thomas, descendant of rotten apes and swine."

In other prison news, the NYT reports that Iraq's Ministry of Justice has renovated Abu Ghraib. The prison's amenities now include "a barbershop, a library, a computer lab, a sewing workshop, a gym and a playground for inmates to spend time with their children on visitation day."

Both the NYT and WP report that Pakistani officials have agreed to a controversial "permanent cease-fire" deal with the Taliban in the Swat Valley. There's just one problem. The Taliban leader in Swat says he agreed only to a 10-day deal and would decide on the permanent cease-fire only after those 10 days were up.

Hillary Clinton is in China, where she is urging the government to curb greenhouse gas emissions. According to the NYTeating more fried food might help.

Back in America, the WP reports that the feds interviewed Sen. Roland Burris on Saturday as part of its investigation into Rod Blagojevich's dealings. So editors should block out some space in Tuesday's paper, by which time the senator will inevitably have changed his story.

The NYT fronts a feature on the ailing but upbeat Ted Kennedy, who says, "I don't really plan to go away soon."

The WP reports on an 11-year-old boy who police in Pennsylvania say shot and killed his father's pregnant girlfriend. TP is confounded by the description of the murder weapon: "a youth model 20-gauge shotgun" that "is designed for children."

Will he or won't he? … The WP has a new ombudsman: Andrew Alexander, a former Washington bureau chief for Cox Newspapers. Alexander might want to begin his new job by taking up the controversy surrounding George Will's column from last Sunday. Will is accused of making erroneous claims about global warming, but no correction has been published, infuriating many in the blogosphere. The columnist has a new piece up today, which ironically begins with the sentence "A simple apology would have sufficed."