Walking it back on Skip Gates while health care hits another speed bump.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 25 2009 5:32 AM

Obama Takes a Mulligan

The New York Times and Washington Post lead and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with President Obama's attempt to back away from his earlier criticism of the police officer who arrested the African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.—criticism that has blown up into a small tempest at a very tricky time for the administration's domestic agenda. The Los Angeles Times leads with the tortured resolution to California's $26 billion budget gap, which gouges large chunks out of the social services from education to Medicaid to criminal justice—and still kicks some of the funding issues down the road.

After originally saying that the police had acted "stupidly" in handcuffing the Harvard professor in his own home, Obama tried to soften his remarks, saying he had not meant to malign Sgt. James Crowley and "could have calibrated those words differently." The Cambridge police department, while dropping all charges against Gates, held a press conference to defend the officers against Obama's reprimand and request a presidential apology. The Post casts the affair as an example of the president's naiveté about which stray remarks might touch a national nerve, noting his surprise that the comment had caused such a fuss. The Journal emphasizes the difficulties the incident raises for Obama's brand of post-racial politics—difficulties shared with Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who also chastised the police—which has allowed him to speak insightfully about race without taking sides. To make amends, Obama, Gates, and Crowley are scheduled to sit down for beers next week.

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The California story—which the NYT stuffs on A12—is bittersweet, as Gov. Schwarzenegger yielded slightly on his insistence that every penny be accounted for in the final budget but warned of painful cuts as well as further losses in the future if the economy does not improve. The Journal takes a historical view, using the state's issuance of $1.03 billion worth of IOU's to talk about the long-standing American tradition of using scrip as a stand-in for cash. Particularly during the Great Depression, governments around the country have given out everything from clamshells to tire scraps while they come up with real money to pay off their debts.

Health care negotiations cracked up in Congress on Friday, as conservative and liberal Democrats tangled over how best to contain the price tag of a new system, which is now pegged somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 trillion. The NYT plays up the role of Rep. Henry Waxman, who grew impatient with the Blue Dogs on his Energy and Commerce committee and threatened to send legislation straight through to the House floor, enraging the moderate coalition. (When asked whether there was a chance of reaching a deal on something that could pass out of Waxman's committee, the Blue Dogs' Mike Ross of Arkansas answered, "No." ) The Senate version is in slightly better shape, as the Finance Committee expects to report out a bill before the August recess—although that's a long time for lobbying groups, already in overdrive in the capital, to tighten the screws on lawmakers at home.

The papers also find local entry points into the health care debate. The NYT reports from a little hospital in Cooperstown, N.Y., that performs on a higher level with lower costs than similar institutions because of one simple thing: Doctors are paid salaries, rather than on a fee-for-service model. Experts say that's the best way to go to contain health care spending, but the salary idea doesn't seem to be gaining much traction in the legislative fight. Meanwhile, some areas of the country have little health care to speak of, and community health centers are cropping up in the breach.

Somewhat relatedly, the LAT features a long investigation in conjunction with ProPublica into the epidemic of nurses stealing and abusing their patients' drugs.

The Journal has the goods on a quandary for Citigroup, which is facing a demand, from one of its highest-volume traders, that the company honor a $100 million pay package. If Citi scraps the contract, Andrew Hall could drag them through an expensive and messy court fight; if the company hands over what it owed, it could get grief from both investors and the Treasury Department's new guy in charge of overseeing executive pay. Meanwhile, the administration's financial regulators can't agree on how the new regime ought to look, disagreeing sharply over the contours of a new consumer-protection agency that could take over certain duties from other agencies.

The Journal also fronts a long, hard look at the career of deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, who showed up in his country this week after being forced out by the military. As the Journal tells it, Zelaya doesn't deserve the democratic bona fides accorded to him by the international community, which has endorsed his return to power. Rather, he is part of a group of populist Latin American leaders who have "used the region's historic poverty and inequality to gain support from the poor, but created deep divisions in their societies by concentrating power in their own hands" and are now falling into line behind Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and drawing a fine line for the Obama administration to walk.

In the latest Bush-era revelation, the NYT brings to light a debate from 2001 over whether to send in troops to bust a suspected al-Qaida cell outside Buffalo, N.Y., which is prohibited both by the Constitution and by a late 19th-century act of Congress. President Bush ultimately decided against using federal force for law enforcement, over the arguments of administration lawyers and Vice President Dick Cheney that it was justified in the name of national security.

The Post follows up on the U.S. killing of civilians in a Baghdad suburb on Tuesday in response to insurgent gunfire. An Iraqi commander sought to detain the U.S. soldiers involved, but was talked down by American officials, exposing a wide gap in how the two parties understand the agreement that went into effect several weeks ago, setting the ground rules for engagement going forward. Meanwhile, on the other front, U.S. forces are struggling to get Afghans to join the police effort at all, complicating an attempt to bring the volatile Helmand province under control.

Sarah Palin officially relinquishes the office of Alaska governor tomorrow, but the tussle over ethics complaints lodged against her continues, even as she claimed to have cleaned up the state's political corruption. The Post uncovers little new material; the erstwhile governor has taken to communicating only in written statements to the newspaper. Palin isn't talking at all to the Journal, which was reduced to quoting her Twitter account in a story about how her future plans are still a mystery.

A close reading of perhaps the biggest viral YouTube video of a wedding procession graces the Post's inner pages, forever ennobling its Minnesotan subjects and providing inspiration to those late-twentysomethings who've given up weekend after weekend as wedding season slogs on.

Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.