Health care legislation might pass without Republican support; Sotomayor avoids questions.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 16 2009 6:44 AM

Health Care Battle Heats Up

The New York Timesleads with a look at how the party-line vote on health care legislation in the Senate's health committee shows how Democrats may end up implementing "what would be the biggest changes in social policy in more than 40 years" without Republican support. In approving the bill 13-10, the Senate committee was the first in Congress to approve the legislation. The measure includes a public insurance option, which Republicans have vehemently opposed. The Washington Postand Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsboxlead with the third day of Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. The woman who will almost certainly become the first Hispanic on the nation's highest court was a bit more relaxed yesterday but took pains to avoid answering any questions about a number of specific legal issues that lawmakers threw her way, including abortion and gun rights.

USA Todayleads with the Federal Reserve predicting that the unemployment rate will get worse than expected, but the economy will grow more robustly than previously thought. In other words, a jobless recovery is on the way. Minutes from the Fed's policy meeting in June reveal that most officials believe the jobless rate would reach 9.8 percent to 10.1 percent in the fourth quarter and will only fall to 9.5 percent to 9.8 percent late next year. But the Fed also expects the economy to grow 2.1 percent to 3.3 percent in 2010. The Los Angeles Timesleads with new data that suggest home prices in Southern California may have reached bottom as June saw the first significant increase in prices in two years. In addition, for the first time in nine months, less than half of the sales were foreclosures.

Advertisement

After Republicans voted unanimously against health care reform legislation in the Senate's health committee, all eyes are on the Senate finance committee, whose members are working on a measure that everyone expects will likely be friendlier to the GOP's interests. Democrats are feeling the pressure from President Obama, who has insisted that each chamber of Congress should pass a health care bill before lawmakers break for August recess. And while the White House had been pushing hard for a bipartisan bill, senators say that the White House is now sending signals that if the legislation has to pass without Republican support, so be it. Instead, administration officials say they'll count Republican ideas that were included in the legislation as a sign of bipartisanship. "There's a value in achieving bipartisanship," Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut said, "but I will not sacrifice a good bill for that."

Democrats don't have to fight only Republicans, though. Inside, the Post says the battle over health care is "intensifying," and several influential industry groups have decided to break "their polite silence" to speak up against the legislation. Some Democrats are complaining that not enough attention is being paid to trying to bring medical costs under control. But at least there does seem to be some hint of bipartisanship in the idea of raising some of the money for health care reform through new fees on the insurance industry. Naturally, the industry isn't too happy about that, and 1,000 insurance agents have descended on Capitol Hill to lobby against the creation of a public plan.

In an analysis piece inside, the WP notes that, despite their best efforts, Republican senators have been "unable to affix" a label on Sotomayor. Her record hasn't been of much help, and the Republicans' steady focus on a few cases has "made the decisions seem more like close calls than the judicial activism Republicans say they represent." In a front-page piece, the NYT says that since it seems like Sotomayor's confirmation is all but assured, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are using their time at the hearings to try to push Obama in a certain direction if another Supreme Court seat opens up during his tenure. Republicans hope that in pursuing tough questioning on certain issues, and by forcing Sotomayor to disagree with Obama's desire for justices with "empathy," they can show that a more obviously liberal candidate would have a tough time getting confirmed. For their part, liberal Democrats want to send Obama the message that if Sotomayor could easily handle the Republicans then he can feel free to name "a more full-throated champion of liberal values."

The WP fronts word that CIA officials wanted to move forward with the secret plans to create assassination teams when they brought the agency's director, Leon Panetta, up to speed on the program last month. There were proposals to move the program into a "somewhat more operational phase," as one intelligence official put it. But Panetta canceled the program and informed lawmakers. Apparently, when the CIA officials informed Panetta about the program, they recommended that Congress be briefed because there was desire to do "a little training," in the words of an intelligence official. While some say the program never really got off the ground, others say teams had been selected and there had been some limited training. The program that got its start shortly after the 2001 attacks "was essentially killed" in 2004. Although there was more talk about it in 2005, it "remained largely dormant until this year," reports the paper.

The director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, disagrees with some congressional Democrats that the CIA broke the law by failing to inform lawmakers about the program. Blair says that while the CIA should have briefed Congress, it's not clear it was required to do so.

The LAT's Greg Miller reveals that the goal of the program was to create paramilitary teams, which would include intelligence officers from other countries, that wouldn't just kill high-level al-Qaida targets but would also collect evidence and detain lower-ranking terrorists. The CIA spent seven years trying to figure out how it could work but continually kept coming across logistical hurdles. Still, the idea persisted and even gained momentum recently because of the evident shortcomings of the ongoing Predator strikes. While some al-Qaida leaders have been killed, the strikes didn't get the agency any closer to capturing Osama bin Laden. "If all you do is blow stuff up and burn stuff up, you never get information that could lead you to the prize," one former intelligence official said.

It was seen as crucial that the paramilitary teams be a part of the CIA so the U.S. government could deny everything if a team were captured. But why couldn't they figure out a way to make this work? There were problems trying to find the right mix of people and figuring out how they could operate without being detected. But ultimately, it turns out that as much as the movies make it seem like CIA agents are great assassins, the truth is that close-range killing is not something the agency really has "a capacity for," said a former CIA official. "There really isn't Jason Bourne walking around doing stuff like this."

The WP fronts a long dispatch from Switzerland that looks into the few things that are known about the man who may be the next leader of North Korea, 26-year-old Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of Kim Jong Il. Very little is known about him except that he seems to have studied under an assumed name in a German-speaking state school in Liebefeld, Switzerland—not the International School of Berne as many have reported. (It seems that student was likely Kim Jong Un's older brother.) Scattered reports from North Korea make it sound as if the leadership is extolling the virtues of Kim Jong Un to clear the path for succession. Old friends of his in Switzerland remember a boy obsessed with basketball who arrived with a collection of expensive Nike sneakers. He was carefully watched over by a group of North Koreans until he suddenly disappeared without saying a word to anybody.

The LAT catches up with Charles Robert Jenkins, the 69-year-old American who was stationed in Korea in 1965 when he made what he describes as "the stupidest decision of my life" and decided to desert and go to North Korea. He was then held captive for decades, frequently used as a propaganda tool, and only allowed to leave in 2004. He married a Japanese woman who had been abducted by the North Koreans and had two daughters. They all live together in Japan now, and Jenkins works at a souvenir shop, where people line up to take pictures with him. "The tourists have seen his face on TV so often, they consider him a movie star." Now the man who spent so much of his life as a prisoner in North Korea tires of being treated like a celebrity in a place where he barely speaks the language.

The WSJ reports that some big banks that have benefited from government bailouts in the United States and Britain are, once again, offering big bucks to their star employees. Citigroup offered $2 million to an executive, Bank of America hired a bond salesman and gave him a deal worth around $6 million, and Royal Bank of Scotland is apparently offering compensation packages "that are at or above the industry's peak pay in 2007," reports the paper. "The state is helping these banks stay in business ... so they are essentially offering this compensation using state money," a compensation consultant said. "This has really been a surprise for other banks, who thought compensation was going to drop."

The company that makes Crocs is in deep trouble, reports the Post. The shoes that people loved to mock, and everyone seemed to own, stopped selling when the economy turned sour, just as the company made huge investments to expand production. What had been a $168.2 million profit in 2007 turned into a $185.1 million loss last year. "The company's toast," said an investment manager. "They're zombie-ish. They're dead and they don't know it." One trend-and-marketing expert says Crocs are over but could come back in a decade if people get nostalgic looking at the back of their closets and think, "Remember when we had ugly, Flintstone-looking feet?"

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.