The clash of the stimuli.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 8 2009 6:04 AM

"Put This Plan in Motion"

The New York Times leads with continuing stimulus deb ate in Congress, where the Senate proposal is set to collide with a House bill that currently does more to help states avoid catastrophic cuts in services. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is "very much opposed" to the cuts being made to the Senate version, which was trimmed down from a high of $900 billion to about $827 billion through slashing aid to states, funding for priorities like school construction and broadband wireless in rural areas, as well as President Barack Obama's promised middle-class tax cut.

The Los Angeles Times leads with the impact of those cuts in aid to states, which are facing a collective $47.4 billion shortfall this year and $84.3 billion in 2010. On a state-by-state basis, the gaps are often breathtaking in size: Nevada's amounts to 38 percent of its general fund, while Washington's governor made a no-new-taxes pledge in her tough re-election campaign, leaving few options to fill that state's hole besides closing state parks, releasing low-risk prisoners, and "shredding" the state's generous social services programs.

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The Washington Post leads with news that the National Security Council will get some real say-s o in this administration, as NSC adviser James L. Jones promises a forthright approach enabled by direct access to the president—a shift from the Bush practice of consulting and making decisions with a backroom inner circle.

President Obama threw his weight behind the Senate stimulus proposal, urging lawmakers in his weekly radio address to swallow hard and pass the thing already (he's also got a secret weapon in Michelle, who has become unexpectedly active in promoting her husband's policy agenda). "Economists agree," the Post proclaims, after polling number-crunchers from all points on the political spectrum, with the general consensus that whatever the stimulus ends up looking like, it should come soon. The adjoining feature looks at Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's plans for the second half of the economic rescue plan, which promises to satisfy advocates of decisive action: The new guy favors "aggressive use of all available tools," according to the paper's analysis of his monetary philosophy, and is expected to announce a plan tomorrow or Tuesday aimed at getting banks lending fast.

If that's the supply side of the economic crisis, the NYT also covers the demand side, with a long biopsy of a community in exurban Florida reshaped by the housing boom and devastated by its bust, to the point where families are struggling with the cost of food.

Way back in the business pages, the NYT has a more detailed anal ysis of the administration's tax plans, including a "refundable tax credit" for those earning too little to even pay income taxes. Overall, the paper says, the changes closely resemble those Obama put forth a year ago on the campaign trail. While you're there, read the riveting tale of pride brought low in Bank of America's messy takeover of Merrill Lynch, in which Merrill's ex-CEO John Thain tried to take a $40 million bonus in a quarter when the firm lost $15.3 billion. The deal is now limping along without him, as the bank sucks up more taxpayer money to save itself from going under.

It's also Great Men Day at the papers, which front several profiles of note. Hamid Karzai's American honeymoon is long since over, the NYT writes, as the Afghan leader faces an uphill campaign for re-election this summer. President Obama has labeled him ineffective and unreliable, and State Department officials are beginning to work around him directly with provincial rulers. Also on A1, the NYT features Richard Holbrooke, veteran of the Dayton peace accords and newly appointed special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Called by one source the "diplomatic equivalent of a hydrogen bomb," Holbrooke answers to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose foreign policy views he helped shape.

The LAT's feature lead is the first in a three-part might-as-well-be-made-for-TV series on an American priest who died fighting corruption in Kenya. The paper also sets up Rush Limbaugh as the GOP's shadow leader-in-exile, tracing his influence as someone who only gains strength among the people from those who oppose him on high. The Post's Tom Ricks focuses in on Army Gen. Raymond Odierno's role in devising and orchestrating the "surge" of troops in Iraq, which had previously been attributed to White House aides. When he started advocating for the troop increase, top brass disagreed, and Odierno only got his way by going straight to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

If the newspapers are correct, it appears that Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same day, at least approximately: Both will be celebrated this Thursday. In the NYT's Book Review, William Safire helps sift through the latest spate of Lincoln bios, now coming hot and heavy on the 200th anniversary of his birth. The Darwin bicentennial has also occasioned a re-examination of his work. In his time, most believed that evolution slowed down as humans neared perfection—but according to the LAT, the pace of evolution has actually sped up as time marches on.

Taking stock of Iraq nearly six years after the U.S. invasions, the NYT's Week in Review reminds us that peaceful elections in Iraq don't necessarily mean a sustainable peace or a stronger position for the United States in the neighborhood. And laying out the foreign policy game plan for the next four years, Vice President Joe Biden made a speech at a security conference in Munich yesterday that began to set up a delicate framework for engagement with Russia—emphasizing diplomacy over military options but rejecting the notion of a Russian "sphere of influence" that the United States must respect.

In the latest evidence that nothing is ever as it seems, and the one smaller-than-thought man in a day of mensches, slugger Alex Rodriguez has been outed for taking performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. O tempore!

Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.