By Daniel Politi
Well, that was quick. After a day of rapid-fire negotiations, House and Senate leaders announced last night that they had reached a deal on a $789.5 billion stimulus package that would, among other things, pay for billions in new construction and infrastructure projects, provide tax relief to individuals and businesses, and extend unemployment benefits. Democrats say it will save or create 3.5 million new jobs, a decline from the 4 million they had originally said was the goal. “The deal all but clinches passage of one of the largest economic rescue programs since Franklin Roosevelt launched the New Deal,” notes the Wall Street Journal.
The New York Times says that a House vote could come as early as Friday, and the Senate would quickly follow so the president can sign it on Monday. There’s talk that President Obama might hold a televised prime-time bill signing ceremony. The Los Angeles Times says the negotiations were able to move quickly partly due to “to the presence of a team from the White House, which injected itself deeply in the process.” After all the partisan fighting, it might be surprising to hear that the final deal “followed remarkably closely to the broad outline that Obama had painted more than a month ago,” points out the Washington Post.
USA Today gives big play to the news from Congress but devotes its lead spot to a new poll that suggests Americans don’t want the government to just focus on the economy and forget about the past. Almost two-thirds of Americans say there should be investigations into the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program and whether torture was used to interrogate terrorism suspects. Almost 40 percent say they’d favor criminal investigations. Americans also want the administration to investigate whether the Bush administration used the Justice Department for political purposes.
Just because the agreement on the stimulus package came quickly doesn’t mean it arrived “without moments of high drama,” as the LAT puts it. Everybody points out that at one point in the day, Senate Democrats announced they had reached a deal, but House members denied that was the case. That led to a two-hour meeting in which it seems Democrats were able to win some last-minute concessions.
Full details on the revised stimulus package weren’t available last night, but the papers, especially the WSJ, have lots of details. In an inside story, the LAT handily outlines who will benefit from the package. Approximately 35 percent of the bill’s total would go to tax cuts, and the rest would go to spending. The tax relief for individuals was reduced, and the White House also agreed to cut back on the proposed aid to financially strapped state governments. In the end, $53.6 billion will go to a state “stabilization fund,” and most of that money will be for schools. The money devoted to tax breaks for home and car buyers was also decreased. But the final agreement did keep the $70 billion measure to prevent millions of Americans from having to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax next year.
There was grumbling among some Democrats yesterday that their side gave in too easily, but leaders said they had no choice if they wanted to hold on to the three Republican votes in the Senate. There was particular ire directed at the Alternative Minimum Tax provision that they said would have been approved by Congress regardless. “It’s about 9 percent of the whole bill,” Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa said. “Why is it in there? It has nothing to do with stimulus. It has nothing to do with recovery.”
In a front-page analysis, the NYT says that while the agreement represents “a quick, sweet victory” for the president, it “was hardly a moment for cigars.” Obama got his package, but without the broad bipartisan support he was expecting. The question now is whether Obama will be able to move on to other items in his domestic agenda so that his first days in office aren’t defined solely by a stimulus package that, by his own admission, may not work as quickly as many Americans might be expecting.
In a front-page piece, USAT says that while it’s clear that Obama “had some stumbles” along the way, many are impressed by the way “Obama and his team have shown a willingness to cut their losses and revise their tactics.” In the end, the fight over the stimulus package may have taught the young administration some valuable lessons about doing business in Washington that could prove to be useful as the president continues to pursue his agenda in the coming months.
The LAT, NYT, and WP front the deadly day in Afghanistan as teams of Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen attacked three government buildings, including the Justice Ministry and Education Ministry, in Kabul, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 50. All eight attackers were also killed. It was the worst violence in Afghanistan’s capital since July, when the Indian Embassy was destroyed, and appeared designed to be a show of strength for the Taliban on the eve of a scheduled visit by Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to the region. The LAT notes that “Kabul’s inner districts are a tangle of blast walls and security checkpoints,” but the attackers somehow managed to get “into some of the city’s most secure areas.” Afghan officials quickly pointed the finger at Pakistan, saying that the attackers sent text messages to Pakistan before they entered the Justice Ministry. The NYT has the most detail about the drama and chaos that engulfed the Justice Ministry and says at least two people were killed in the crossfire between government forces and the gunmen.
The WP off-leads a look at how employers are increasingly trying to block unemployment payments to former workers. More than one-quarter of people applying for unemployment benefits are being challenged by their former employers, and numbers show the proportion of attempts to block the payouts has “reached record levels in recent years.” Employers save money on their unemployment insurance when the claims are dropped, so they’ve increasingly been trying to show that a worker was fired for misconduct or left voluntarily, two factors that makes someone ineligible to receive benefits. The increase is particularly notable in challenges involving misconduct, which employers lose “about two-thirds of the time.”
The LAT goes inside with a look at how the White House has made it pretty clear that it believes Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb. Although officials say that while there isn’t new evidence to contradict the National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007, which concluded Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon, there’s a “growing consensus that it provided a misleading picture and that the country was poised to reach crucial bomb-making milestones this year.”
The WSJ notes that a clinic in Los Angeles has announced that it will soon be able to help those seeking a form of fertility treatment select the gender and certain physical traits of their baby. It’s not clear whether the clinic can actually do that just yet, but it demonstrates that the huge growth of a procedure used to prevent life-threatening diseases “has accelerated genetic knowledge swiftly enough that pre-selecting cosmetic traits in a baby is no longer the stuff of science fiction.” Using the procedure to select a baby’s sex is forbidden in many countries, but not in the United States.
The NYT tells the horrifying story of a man who was hit by a car in New York. The driver called the police but then didn’t see a body so he assumed he made a mistake. But it turns out that the driver of a van that passed through that spot moments later didn’t see the body and ended up dragging the man “through major arteries of Queens and Brooklyn” for 50 minutes. It’s unclear whether the man died when he was first hit.
While many industries are suffering, businesses offering matchmaking services are seeing a huge boom. Online sites are seeing more business, as are traditional matchmaking services that set up members or offer them classes on how to meet the right person. Match.com, for example, had its strongest fourth quarter of the last seven years. Those in the online dating industry say that not only are there more people with free time, but it’s also much cheaper to join a dating site than to meet a potential partner through traditional means. And experts say it’s natural for people to seek companionship during hard times.
The recession has also done little to stop suspicious men and women from spending money to find out whether their spouse is cheating, reports USAT. The sale of tracking devices and hiring of private investigators always increases around Valentine’s Day because it’s seen as a perfect time to discover whether a spouse is hiding something. While the economy may have put a dent on people’s abilities to hire a private detective, they’re still snapping up tracking software. The head of a company that sells spyware to track spouses says he was surprised when sales shot up in the past month because he expected that couples would stay home more during a recession. “Apparently,” he said, “money troubles don’t stop the philandering.”