Belt-tightening to fund tax cut

Bush's budget blueprint gets blessed and blasted on Capitol Hill. Plus: Hillary Clinton's other brother admits pressing for pardons. And: A Denise Rich recount and the "conspiracy" in Florida.

Published March 1, 2001 9:00AM (EST)

President Bush has put his money where his mouth is, by delivering some hard numbers to the waiting arms of Congress on Wednesday in his $1.96 trillion budget blueprint. Bush also kicked off a two-day, multistate trip to sell the American people on his proposed budget priorities.

The president plans to beef up spending for education and defense, while paying for his $1.6 trillion tax cut by tightening the belts of 10 federal agencies. Bush also hopes to save money at the Pentagon by closing military bases, declaring that there is a 23 percent surplus of bases nationwide. The tougher task of identifying which bases to close has been left to a later date.

The Republican leadership, particularly in the House, received the budget bundle with enthusiasm, and is pressing Democrats to let the plan move forward quickly. In the meantime, Democrats stepped up their criticism of Bush's plan, accusing the president of shuffling the numbers to make his tax cut more palatable and overstating the fiscal security of popular entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

The emerging budget battle may temporarily shift into the background on Capitol Hill Thursday when the House Government Reform Committee restarts investigative hearings on former President Clinton's pardons. Three former top White House aides headline Thursday's proceedings, with former chief of staff John Podesta, former White House counsel Beth Nolan and Clinton confidant Bruce Lindsey expected to testify under oath about Clinton's pardon process.

Meanwhile, committee chairman Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., keeps getting new fuel to keep the probe fires going. Tony Rodham, the other brother of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has now admitted pushing pardons in conversations with the former president, and Clinton has agreed to release a list of top donors to his presidential library. Burton had threatened to hold library officials in contempt if they continued to withhold the list of contributors, which Burton believes could reveal evidence that fugitive financier Marc Rich bought his pardon through straw donors, including his ex-wife, Denise Rich.

And the Senate has stepped tentatively into the act, with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., requesting that the president personally appear before Senate investigators to explain his pardons.
-- Alicia Montgomery [4 a.m. PST, March 1, 2001]

Reports emerged this week that Denise Rich, ex-wife of pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich, visited the White House between 12 and 20 times during Bill Clinton's time in office. That number will come as a disappointment to the many pundits and media outlets that have reported, repeatedly, over the past several weeks that Denise Rich visited the White House a whopping 100 times over the past year.

The "100" number crept into the public conversation about Rich just days after the pardon -- appearing first Jan. 24 in a story in the New York Post by reporter Todd Venezia, who wrote, "Sources close to [Rich] say the White House even contacted the multimillionairess -- who has visited the Clintons 100 times over the past year -- to serve as a go-between for the administration and Marc's lawyers." Venezia might have been first with the inaccuracy, but he wasn't the last. Below is a short list of those who called it wrong:

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., Fox News, Feb. 25:
"She was there, we had been told, up to 100 times. I don't think we have verified all that yet."

Steve Dunleavy, New York Post, Feb. 25:
"Well, Denise Rich is rich by name and nature. She can say she loved Bill's politics and may have been infatuated (platonically, of course) with his company, seeing she visited the White House more than 100 times in one year, something some Cabinet members didn't actually do."

Don Imus, on CNN's "Live With Larry King," Feb. 22:
"According to fairly reliable sources, she made 100 visits to the White House."

Sean Hannity, on Fox's "Hannity and Colmes," to Dick Morris, Feb. 20:
"A 100 times at the White House in a year, Dick!"

Sue Reid, Sunday Times (London), Feb. 18:
"The searing political row that followed was stoked by news that Rich had met the Clintons -- whom she calls "incredibly compassionate human beings" -- 100 times over the years."

The Houston Chronicle, editorial, Feb. 17:
"By now everyone is aware that Rich's former wife, Denise, visited the Clinton White House on at least 100 occasions last year and that she was active in the New York social and political scene on behalf of Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign."

Michael Barone, on "The McLaughlin Group," Feb. 9:
"I've heard the figure 100 -- that Denise Rich visited the White House last year."

Dick Morris, on Fox's "The Edge With Paula Zahn," Feb. 8:
Denise Rich is "a woman who spent 100 nights at the White House over the last 365 days."

Dick Morris, on Fox's "The Edge With Paula Zahn," Jan. 25:
"It doesn't have much to do with Denise Rich's 100 visits to the White House. It has to do with one thing and one thing only, what Jack Quinn knows."
-- Alicia Montgomery [9 a.m. PST, Feb. 28, 2001]

A "modern-day reincarnation of slavery"?

The Congressional Black Caucus convened Tuesday for close to six hours for a hearing about voting irregularities in the presidential race. Unlike hearings held by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and by the NAACP in the wake of the election, this event didn't feature any "real people" telling stories about being turned away from the polls on Nov. 8.

Instead, leaders of civil rights organizations and left-leaning interest groups summarized their suggestions for improvement, including setting nationwide election standards, pursuing federal funding to modernize voting equipment and declaring Election Day a national holiday.

Select Democratic Party bigwigs were on hand to praise the caucus and promise reforms. "This to me is the most important issue we face," said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. "It's at the heart of our Democratic experience." Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., also joined in the handwringing, calling the stories of disenfranchisement "troubling, to put it mildly."

Though the volume stayed low for most of the hearing, the rhetoric occasionally got heated. The panel seemed particularly upset with CBC critics who had called for the group to quit talking about the Florida voting problems. "This is almost a modern-day reincarnation of slavery," said Maynard Jackson, national development chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He compared the calls to end the Florida probes to masters who beat their slaves harder the more they cried out.

Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., said there was enough evidence that Florida officials took questionable actions to merit an investigation into whether there was a coordinated effort to suppress minority turnout. "Could we use the word 'conspiracy' and not be afraid of it?" he asked.

Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, toed a more moderate line. "I'm not a conspiracy theorist myself," he said, "but I don't think Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall by himself."
-- Alicia Montgomery [4 p.m. PST, Feb. 27, 2001]

By Salon Staff

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