Governors Wary of Health Care Tab
The New York Timesleads with governors across the country worrying that health care reform will ultimately cost states too much in Medicaid obligations at a time when many are facing budget crises. The bipartisan worries became the focal point at the summer meeting of the National Governors Association. The Wall Street Journalalso leads its world-wide newsbox with health care, noting that President Obama will have to convince the public that the overhaul wouldn't increase the national debt after the Congressional Budget Office said it would. The White House is countering that the CBO shouldn't include the cost of a provision that would get rid of a planned cut in payments to doctors for Medicare, because lawmakers have always postponed implementing the cuts. The Washington Postleads with a new poll that shows Obama's approval rating on health care has dropped to 49 percent from 57 percent in April, while the disapproval rating increased from 29 percent to 44 percent. This decrease is particularly stark among independents. Even though more than 50 percent of Americans approve of how he's handling the economy, it's the first time that more strongly disapprove than strongly approve. A slim majority of Americans approve of the general outline of the health care legislation being discussed in Congress, but there are sharp divisions based on income and party affiliation. Obama's overall approval rating is at 59 percent, six percentage points lower than it was a month ago.
The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that dozens of Drug Enforcement Administration agents are being sent to Afghanistan in order to help break up expansive trafficking networks that are providing lots of cash for militants. The number of DEA agents and analysts in Afghanistan will increase from 13 to 68 by September and to 81 in 2010. U.S. officials say that the ties between drug traffickers and insurgents are increasing, and the Afghan government appears to be powerless to stop it, partly due to the hefty bribes that traffickers pay government officials and security forces. During the Bush administration, counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan focused on destroying poppy fields, a move that many now believe merely pushed farmers into the Taliban's arms. USA Todayleads with federal statistics showing that the number of Hispanic workers who die on the job has risen 76 percent since 1992. In 2007, 937 Hispanic workers died. This increase came at a time when total worker deaths were on the decline. While a rise in the number of Hispanics in the work force can account for some of the increase, language barriers, a lack of training, and a tendency not to speak up when working conditions seem dangerous are also to blame.
The Obama administration had been hoping that governors would pay an integral part in pushing lawmakers to approve health care reform. But even though many agree that the reform is needed, they also insist that this is a horrible time to be adding obligations to state budgets. The added costs would come in the form of increased Medicaid obligations, since the health care bills currently under discussion would partly rely on increasing eligibility to the state and federal insurance program for the poor as a way to increase coverage.
In a front-page piece, the WP takes a look at how the new White House strategy to increase pressure on lawmakers to pass health care reform will include lots of Obama time. The president will now take the lead in advocating for the legislation, not just in meetings with lawmakers but also directly to the public, including via a prime-time news conference on Wednesday. "It's time to raise the stakes on this," one senior aide said. But the strategy is a risky one, particularly considering that Democratic lawmakers are raising lots of objections. Problems with the legislation could make it seem as though Obama can't control members of his own party and might turn into a personal failure that could be difficult to bounce back from.
The WSJ fronts a look at how a group of Democratic lawmakers who represent some of the country's richest districts and are new to Capitol Hill have been expressing skepticism about the proposals to pay for health care reform through taxes on the wealthiest Americans. This debate over taxes is likely to cause the most intra-party conflict. If these "wary freshmen" decide to unite with other fiscally conservative Democrats to stand up against tax increases, "the coalition could be formidable," notes the paper.
The NYT fronts a look at how the United States military is taking steps to overhaul the prison system in Afghanistan. And it's not just American-run detention centers; it's the entire Afghan jail and judicial system as well. Human rights advocates have long said that Afghans can be jailed for seemingly no reason and then have no real legal protections once they're inside. Unsurprisingly, prisons have often turned into terrorist-training camps. In what the NYT says is a "further sign of high-level concern over detention practices," Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a confidential message urging military leaders to emphasize to troops the importance of treating detainees properly.
The WP goes inside with a new report by the inspector general, who is overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Banks used the taxpayer money to invest, repay debts, and, in a few cases, buy other banks. The report, which is based on voluntary responses to a survey, also states that the vast majority of banks used at least some of the government money to increase new lending. The inspector general says the Treasury Department should require banks to detail how they use the federal money, a move the Treasury continues to resist.
The WP points out that the world has turned a blind eye to North Korea's hard-labor camps, where an estimated 200,000 political prisoners work as slaves, eating barely enough to stay alive. No outsider has visited the camps, but newly published accounts of survivors and former guards paint a horrifying picture of these gulags that have operated for half a century. Many of the prisoners in the country's five large camps, one of which is larger than the city of Los Angeles, are never charged with a crime. And if someone is said to have broken the law, up to three generations of that person's family can be imprisoned. "We have this system of slavery right under our nose," said a camp guard who defected. But when U.S. diplomats meet with North Korean officials, the nuclear program takes precedence and the camps aren't discussed.
The NYT takes a look at how South Africa has failed to join other African nations in promoting circumcision to reduce a man's risk of contracting HIV by more than half. Even though it's been two years since the World Health Organization recommended circumcision, South Africa doesn't provide the procedure or educate the public about it. At the one clinic where the surgery is performed free of charge, demand has increased dramatically over the last year. And while most were going through with it in the hopes that it would help them avoid HIV, others had other motives, including rumors that it improves sexual performance and helps men last longer. "My girlfriend was nagging me about this," said a 24-year-old. "So I was like, 'O.K., let me do it.' "
The WSJ goes inside with word that AEG Live and the estate of Michael Jackson are trying to get a Hollywood studio to pay at least $50 million for the theatrical and DVD distribution rights to a documentary about the King of Pop's last days. The concert promoter, which had already spent $30 million on the concerts that Jackson was preparing for when he died, has about 100 hours of footage, including from Jackson's final dress rehearsal.
Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.