Morning Must Reads — Time for a Bush ban?

New York Times — Obama Seeks to Reassure U.S. After Bombing Attempt

On Sunday, after the underwear bomber’s botched attack, Obama administration insiders were crowing in background talking points about transferring the president’s calm to the American people and not passing along anger and fear the way President George W. Bush did.

A year on, it may be time for the president to institute a strict no-Bush-juxtapositions policy for his team.

Janet Napolitano forced a visibly annoyed Obama out of his calm reclusion by badly muffing her Sunday talk show appearances with an initial claim that “the system worked.” Expect Napolitano to be headed back to Arizona before June.

While the temptation for the administration will be to believe that the plan would have worked if someone else had been the presidential proxy, the truth is that when vital systems under executive responsibility fail so thoroughly Americans expect the boss to own it.

Writers Peter Baker and Scott Shane explain how political overconfidence led to an unforced error.

“Administration officials said that during a weekend conference call they had resolved to use the Sunday shows to reassure the public, but that the ‘system worked’ formulation was not in written talking points. ‘Clearly (Napolitano) could have been more clear, and I think she was today,’ said one administration official, who declined to be identified discussing internal strategy.

The visual contrast of a president on vacation while there was anxiety about air travel also drew fire. Although aides issued statements describing conference calls with counterterrorism advisers, pictures of passengers enduring tougher airport screening were juxtaposed with reports of the president picnicking at the beach and playing sports.”


Wall Street Journal — Al Qaeda Takes Credit for Plot


The baddies are claiming a partial win for at least getting underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in a position to singe his giblets in U.S. airspace.

The syringe that was to inject the detonating chemical into the explosive melted in the initial reaction.

Abdulmutallab seems to have been from the al Qaeda B team, but was sent forward because he was eager and had Western access through his banker father.

But writers Peter Spiegel, Jay Solomon and Margaret Coker explain that the varsity is still training in Yemen.

“Al Qaeda's growing presence in Yemen could prove problematic for President Obama, in particular as he hastens to complete the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Roughly half the 215 detainees in Cuba are Yemeni nationals, and the Pentagon has concluded 60 remain national security threats.

U.S. investigators are looking into whether any former Saudi or Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo played a role in the Christmas plot. Six Yemeni nationals were repatriated from Guantanamo last week. A U.S. official working on Middle East policy said Monday that the revelations about al Qaeda's operations in Yemen ‘will make it very difficult to return more.’”


Los Angeles Times — Vote urged to confirm TSA chief

Proving that it’s never the wrong time in Washington to score points, labor and industry groups are saying that the underwear bomber proves why Republicans should lift their objections to the Obama administration’s nominee to head the Transportation Safety Administration.

Republicans worry that Erroll Southers would quickly allow security screeners to unionize, adding another layer of bureaucracy to the already balky security apparatus.

Writers Hugo Martín and Kathleen Hennessey explain that while unions aren’t saying that if Southers was on the job the attack would have been prevented, they’re just saying that Sen. Jim DeMint should do the right thing.

“The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing government workers, made the same plea three weeks ago when the TSA inadvertently posted classified airport screening information on the Internet.

‘This incident further illuminates the urgency of appointing a permanent leader at the agency,’ the group said.”


New York Times — Expanding Health Coverage and Shoring Up Medicare: Is It Double-Counting?

The clarification from the Congressional Budget Office last week that the Senate health plan was using the same money twice – once to reduce the deficit and once to expand care was an unsettling reminder of the imperfect science of estimating the consequences, intended and otherwise, of a bill so big.

Writer Robert Pear tries to explain that it’s ok because the Medicare Trust Fund is a fictional entity and the money all goes into the same kitty anyway. It’s a mark of the awfulness of a piece of legislation when dishonesty of intent is the rebuttal to accusations of incoherence.

“The Senate bill would reduce the growth of Medicare spending and increase the Medicare payroll tax on high-income people. The combination of less spending and more revenue would lower the deficit, based on budget accounting rules, and extend the life of the Medicare trust fund.

However, (Richard S. Foster, the chief Medicare actuary) said, the same money “cannot be simultaneously used” to cover the uninsured and to extend the Medicare trust fund, “despite the appearance of this result from the respective accounting conventions.”

Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, summarized the situation with a pithy metaphor. ‘You can’t sell the same pony twice,’ he said.”


Wall Street Journal — Big Budget Deficits Demand Number Crunching, and More

Writer John McKinnon provides a great look at the options for the president as he attempts his pirouette on deficit spending next month. A hint: new taxes are involved.

Whatever Obama does, expect No. 4 to make an appearance:

“4. Magic asterisks and rosy scenarios

In Washington, if all else fails, fudge. Such techniques were referred to derisively as ‘magic asterisks’ and ‘rosy scenarios’ during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

“If the [Securities and Exchange Commission] had jurisdiction over the White House, we might have all had time for a course in remedial economics at Allenwood Penitentiary,” former Reagan budget director David Stockman recalled in his memoir.

For example, the administration could set specific targets for deficit reduction — or spending cuts or revenue increases — without specifying how they would be achieved.”


–To get Morning Must Reads in your inbox every weekday click here.



Endorsement: Vote yes on Prop. A to strengthen public transportation in San Francisco

Prop. A will bolster S.F. investment in upgrades to public transporation

Fun, free, cheap: What to do in San Francisco this week

Car-free fun in Bayview, blooms and salsa at Union Square, outdoor films