Cheney reveals his inner oilman.

Published May 1, 2001 9:54AM (EDT)

Throughout the presidential campaign, George W. Bush routinely pounded Al Gore for lacking a coherent energy policy. Vice President Dick Cheney outlined that strategy Monday for the new administration: more drilling and mining. Cheney officially declared the nation in the throes of an energy crisis, and dismissed calls for a truly conservative policy: increased conservation.

"The aim here is efficiency, not austerity," Cheney said. "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

The green lobby immediately reacted Tuesday, with the Sierra Club singling out a new bill, introduced by a bipartisan coalition of Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that could eliminate the need for more drilling. The bill would force automakers to increase fuel efficiency standards in new cars. "By raising the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard for SUVs, pickups and minivans from the current low of 20.7 miles per gallon to 27.5 mpg, this bill will save 1 million barrels of oil every day -- three times more oil that we could get from drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," said Sierra Club spokeswoman Ann Mesnikoff. "President Bush is poised to introduce an energy policy based on drilling, digging and destroying our environment. We need policies that move us to a cleaner energy future, not backward to more pollution."

Instead, Cheney called for new exploration of domestic energy sources. And if Bush adopts the commission's recommendations -- is there really any doubt? -- guess who would be among those profiting big-time from the new oil exploration, utilizing the "new technologies" Cheney extolled? That's right -- Halliburton Inc., Cheney's former employer, and the world's largest oil services company.

Though Cheney's comments made front-page news across the country, it was hardly a news flash. They seem to solidify a pair of early impressions of the Bush administration. No. 1: This is an administration by, of and for the oil and gas industries. And No. 2: When it comes to laying out the details, the administration sends out Dick Cheney.

The explanation has become boilerplate for almost any Bush story on the environment or dealing with energy: The administration continues to bury its thumb in the collective eye of environmentalists who accuse the administration of exploiting California's electricity woes in order to pay back their contributors in the energy and mining industries. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, oil and gas interests ponied up $25.5 million for Republicans during the last election cycle, compared to just over $6 million for Democrats. The only candidate to receive more money from the industry than Bush and former Rep. Rick Lazio was Spencer Abraham, who is now Bush's secretary of energy.

Certainly, the power crisis out West has been good business for many energy producers. As federal regulators refuse to step in to help energy-starved consumers in California, the wallets of energy producers continue to bulge. Calpine earnings jumped to $94.8 million in the first three months of the year, compared with $18.1 million in the same period last year. In their most recent earnings reports, energy wholesalers like Dynegy Inc. and Enron -- the biggest giver of the energy companies -- have also seen healthy profit gains. Enron's sales increased nearly four times that of the previous quarter.

Whether or not this pro-industry policy will have any real political fallout remains to be seen. Already, many moderate Republicans have quietly and gingerly distanced themselves from the administration. And increasingly, Democrats are staking out their positions on environmental protection to paint Bush as an industry hack.

But Bush continues, unrepentant, a true child of the oil industry. Ironically, on the same day that his vice president was fanning partisan flames by calling for more oil drilling, the president himself was heralding the virtues of bipartisanship at a White House lunch to celebrate his first 100 days in office. Then again, of the 260 Democrats invited, only 50 attended.

-- Anthony York

The lowdown: Reading the tabs

President Bush's crack team of advisors has undermined a sinister plot against the president, according to the Weekly World News. According to this week's edition, "White House security personnel have reportedly booted a young female intern off the staff after discovering she was a mole planted by the Democrats -- on a mission to seduce President George W. Bush!"

Of course, the tabloid reports, the "mystery woman's name has not been revealed," and the incident has been "hushed up"; the News cites "administration sources" and a "high-level Republican Party source" who claim the Democrats were "hoping to create a Monica Lewinsky-type scandal and unseat Bush."

It quotes a "White House insider" as saying the intern "was very flirtatious, always flashing a lot of cleavage and thigh." For that she gets fired? Hardly seems like compassionate conservatism.

After the alleged intern made a crack about presidential kneepads, the nefarious plot began to unravel. "The intern reportedly confessed that she had been sent to 'boink' the President by Democratic operatives, who dubbed the mission Operation Bushwhack. But she couldn't or wouldn't name the people who put her up to it," the tabloid reports.

But Operation Bushwhack never stood a chance, according to yet another unnamed source. "Unlike his predecessor, President Bush is a person of high moral caliber and deeply committed to his marriage," the source said. "Also, his personal relationship with Jesus Christ is incredibly important to him. This kind of ploy would never have worked."

-- A.Y.

Poll watch

Though President Bush has kept his schedule full with tax cut rallies in key states, it may not be doing him much good. A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey concludes that the public's opinion about the necessity of Bush's tax cut plan has remained largely unchanged since the beginning of his administration. In a January poll, 52 percent of Americans declared themselves in favor of Bush's tax cut, with 33 percent opposed. Of those surveyed from April 20 to 22, 56 percent were in favor of the tax cut, while 35 percent were opposed. Furthermore, only 12 percent of Americans want the Bush cut passed as is, with 86 percent voicing concern with at least one aspect of the tax plan.

The good news for Bush is that he can claim that a majority of Americans do want tax relief. And he may yet profit politically from this issue, using it to demonstrate his ability to get things done in Congress. The poll found that 59 percent of Americans now believe that the tax cut will happen, while 36 percent think it won't. The January results were more evenly split, with 49 percent predicting passage of the tax cut and 46 percent predicting failure.

The survey has a margin of error of 3 points.

Bush job approval

  • 57 percent, Los Angeles Times, April 21 to 26
  • 56 percent, CBS News/New York Times, April 23 to 25
  • 56 percent, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, April 21 to 23
  • 62 percent, CNN/USA Today/Gallup, April 20 to 22
  • 63 percent, ABC News/Washington Post, April 19 to 22
  • 63 percent, Fox News, April 18 to 29
  • 57 percent, Newsweek, April 12 to 13

    -- Alicia Montgomery

    Daily line

    "I think the point the president makes repeatedly about the need to develop a missile defense is that the Cold War is over and the United States needs to protect itself and our allies and our troops that are stationed abroad from a different nature of threat."
    -- White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

    Bush buzz

    Talk magazine has pre-released a story online about the stolen debate tape that describes how the tape showed Bush losing his temper in a mock debate that "apparently got so hot, so inflammatory," it was cut short. The Web exclusive is tantalizing in suggesting what we might learn from the trial of Yvette Lozano, the young Bush staffer charged with sending the tape, but the story itself is frustratingly weak in details.

    Meanwhile, the president's latest policy project is resurrecting an aggressive plan for a strategic missile defense system that would protect both America and its closest allies in the event of attack. Still smarting from international criticism of his statements about Taiwan policy and the status of the Kyoto environmental treaty, Bush is determined to do this by the book. He called five key American allies on Monday to give them a heads up on the "Star Wars" plan, though he did stop short of contacting Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been a staunch opponent of the missile defense system. Both the Russians and the Chinese have expressed concern that such a system would substantially tilt the balance of military power in America's favor.

    And they're not the only ones. Though Bush has contacted the leaders of Canada, Germany, Great Britain and France, as well as the NATO secretary-general, that by no means guarantees their support. Both abroad and at home, the missile defense system is seen by critics as a stake in the heart of the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 and as a potential catalyst for a renewed arms race. Much of the success of the new approach on missile defense depends on Bush's ability to verbally soothe our nervous European allies, placate China and Russia and convince Congress that the change is worth the trouble.

    How far he'll get with that is anyone's guess, but perceptions of his power to persuade are not likely to be helped by the tiny turnout at his 100-days luncheon, held on Monday at the White House. Of the 535 invitations that went out to the entire Congress, only 193 guests attended, with much of the Democratic leadership choosing to stay away. Among the notable absentees were Bush bipartisan buddy Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and even Bush's fellow Republican Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House.

    While Bush spoke to allies and empty seats on Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney headed north to speak to an Associated Press meeting in Toronto. There he tried to put the White House back on the offensive in the struggle between energy and environmental interests. "America's reliance on energy, and fossil fuels in particular, has lately taken on an urgency not felt since the late 1970s," Cheney said. "Without a clear, coherent energy strategy, all Americans could one day go through what Californians are experiencing now, or worse." The vice president derided those who believe that conservation alone will be able to solve energy problems, and pressed for a revival of exploration for fossil fuels, including oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    Republicans in Congress are working on a more popular part of the Bush agenda, hoping to get a final deal with Democrats on the size of the Bush tax cut by the end of this week. But negotiations are complicated by their effort to squeeze an across-the-board tax cut, a reduction of the marriage penalty and elimination of the estate tax through at the same time.

    Tuesday schedule: Bush speaks at 2 p.m. about his plans for a strategic missile defense system before the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington. Bush and Cheney meet with the president of Hungary.

    -- A.M.

    Suck-up watch

    The subject: Joseph Curl, correspondent for the Washington Times.
    The evidence:

    Headline: Charming Bush lauded after 100 days; President focuses on taxes, education
    Page: 1A
    Date: April 30, 2001

    By Joseph Curl, The Washington Times


    One hundred days ago, a Texan came to Washington bent on changing the toxic tone in the nation's capital and vowing to curb federal spending, rewrite the country's tax code and overhaul the education system.

    With 1,360 days left in his term, President Bush is well on his way to achieving his goals. Congress is rapidly moving toward passage of at least a $1.3 trillion tax cut, as well as the core principles of the new president's education package; his federal budget that holds spending increases to 4 percent was passed by the House and is now in a conference committee; and the partisan flames that raged on Capitol Hill for much of the last eight years are but smoldering embers.

    "We're making progress toward changing the tone in Washington," Mr. Bush said Saturday. "There's less name-calling and finger-pointing. We're sharing credit. We are learning we can make our points without making enemies."

    In the process, the presidential candidate who pundits said lacked the skills and knowledge necessary to run the country has deftly handled an international crisis, increased his approval rating to 63 percent -- eight points higher than former President Bill Clinton enjoyed after his first 100 days -- and returned dignity to a White House stained by his predecessor.

    "It turns out that he knows an awful lot about being president," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar with the Brookings Institution. "Maybe it's genetic."

    Mr. Bush's easy charm -- the back-slapping, the winks, the nicknames -- has so far taken the bat out of Democrats' hands. None wants to launch the first strike, preferring to wait quietly until Mr. Bush showed his true partisan colors.

    They're still waiting.

    This day in Bush history

    May 1, 1995: The Austin-American Statesman reported that Gov. George W. Bush appointed fewer women and minorities to government agencies than his predecessor, Ann Richards. Of Bush's first 128 nominees, about 23 percent were women and 22 percent were minorities, compared with 43 percent women and 36 percent minorities for Richards. "I have appointed very, very fine Texans from all walks of life," Bush said. "I appoint people, first, on can they do the job. Then we'll worry about their gender and their race afterwards."

    Burning Bush

    Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

    Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

    Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

    Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

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