Thanks to our friends in Congress, Mr. Rewrite gets to spend a few minutes this morning pondering whether the debt deal is a sugarcoated or sugar-coated Satan sandwich. Mr. Rewrite couldn't care less about the Satan part. He takes no stands outside of usage, spelling and grammar.
There's no AP Stylebook entry on sugarcoated/sugar-coated, and the Webster's New World College Dictionary offers no help other than listing sugarcoat as the verb. Not surprisingly, media references are all over the place on Google News. Yahoo! goes with sugarcoated, as shown here:
The New York Times hyphenates sugar-coated Satan sandwich, as does The Washington Post. The one reference by the Los Angeles Times goes with sugarcoated. The Associated Press hasn't used the term in reference to the debt deal but did use sugarcoated in its obituary for "Brady Bunch" creator Sherwood Schwartz. But AP can be a little like the Wild West when it comes to usage, so without an AP Stylebook entry Mr. Rewrite isn't going to read anything into that.
As for reference books and sites, Merriam-Webster's online version mentions sugarcoat as a "back formation from sugarcoated." The overly accommodating Diciontary.com, not surprisingly, lists both forms, as do some other online sources that Mr. Rewrite doesn't trust.
Now, at long last, here's Mr. Rewrite's take: Absent entries in the AP Stylebook and Webster's New World College Dictionary, Mr. Rewrite would go with the hyphen (sugar-coated Satan sandwich). But he notes that AP's stylebook editors blew him out of the water last week when he suggested going with slide show rather than slideshow for the same reasons (coupled with AP's own advice in recent years). He'll ask via Twitter and report any answer.