The broken promise: Why is Bush cutting the budget for anti-nuclear proliferation programs when he said he'd increase it? Plus: What Democrat will get a federal judgeship Wednesday?

By Salon Staff

Published May 8, 2001 2:49PM (EDT)

Rant: Bush's broken defense promise

Discussing national security on the campaign trail, way back in November 1999, Texas Gov. George W. Bush didn't say anything about national missile defense. Instead, he lauded two senators, Sen Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., for their work protecting the world from the threat of nuclear proliferation.

"In an act of foresight and statesmanship, they realized that existing Russian nuclear facilities were in danger of being compromised. Under the Nunn-Lugar program, security at many Russian nuclear facilities has been improved and warheads have been destroyed."

Then, no doubt knitting his brows and using that low voice he uses to suggest gravitas, he added "Even so, the Energy Department warns us that our estimates of Russian nuclear stockpiles could be off by as much as 30 percent. In other words, a great deal of Russian nuclear material cannot be accounted for. The next president must press for an accurate inventory of all this material. And we must do more. I'll ask the Congress to increase substantially our assistance to dismantle as many of Russia's weapons as possible, as quickly as possible."

But last week, largely missed amid the clamor over Bush's multibillion-dollar national missile defense shield, came the news that Bush's budget proposes cutting -- not increasing -- these anti-nuke proliferation programs by $60 million.

A Scripps Howard story did note the cuts, and helpfully pointed out that earlier this year, a bipartisan Energy Department task force, chaired by former Republican Sen. Majority Leader Howard Baker and former Clinton White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler, said the funds for these very programs already "fall short of what is needed to adequately address the threat." Another expert from Sandia National Laboratories said the program would be "severely wounded" by the cuts.

The message seems clear: Rather than prevent the use of orphaned nuclear weapons, we'll create a shield to protect ourselves from them, and pay our friends in the arms industry anywhere between $60 billion to $200 billion to develop it. But setting aside critiques of a working shield -- like how does it prevent a bomb or its materials from slipping into this country, where it's created and detonated? -- even supporters agree a working missile shield is not going to be available in the immediate future. The Pentagon and White House have indicated a working shield could be up and running by 2004.

That seems wildly optimistic, considering testing of such systems have been extremely disappointing. But even if we were to give White House the benefit of the doubt, three years is an awfully long time to be waiting for an umbrella against rogue nukes, especially when we've just started to try and get rid of the tens of thousands that are already in existence.

Already, senators -- including the august Lugar -- have indicated that funding for these programs are nonnegotiable, and efforts to cut from them will bring a bipartisan blast Bush can ill-afford. The distinction that will be lost if funding is simply restored, though, is that spending should actually increase for them to be truly effective.

Bush knew that back on the campaign trail in 1999, when he was safely parroting the conventional, moderate approach (remember when he was supposed to be a moderate?) to nuclear weapons proliferation that had captured bipartisan support in Congress. He's still warning about rogue nuclear missiles, only now it's to hawk his proposed NMD. But if he gets his way on cutting anti-nuclear proliferation programs, we might be more vulnerable to such an attack than ever before.

--Kerry Lauerman

Bush league I

With Democrats donning their armor to keep President Bush from appointing right-wingers to federal judgeships, most of the 11 nominees Bush will announce Wednesday are women and minorities, according to the National Review Online. One of them is Roger Gregory, the black Democrat President Clinton named to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals shortly before leaving office, the magazine reports.

Missing from the list is Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., the conservative lawmaker who's been on most rosters of likely Bush judicial picks, whose selection would have been bitterly opposed by California's two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

"Democrats have been threatening to pursue an all-court press against the Bush nominees, but the multi-cultural makeup of the first Bush wave may make the Dems' job harder," the magazine observes, noting that Cox and other conservative favorites could come later.

But the president will win an early round in the court of public opinion -- the way he did just after the bitter Florida debacle, when his first Cabinet picks were a Rainbow Coalition of Republicans that for a time obscured the administration's solid right-wing credentials. Democrats say Bush's opening gambit isn't likely to change the ferocity of the court debate. Let's hope not. That's 11 down, hundreds of Bush judicial appointees to go, and something tells me there won't be many more Clinton appointees among them.

-- Joan Walsh

Bush league II

Given how his own family ties helped Bush climb into the White House, the current president can appreciate the advantages of having a famous and powerful father. Thanks to Bush, Eugene Scalia, son Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, will soon learn that lesson as well. The administration has appointed the junior Scalia to be the top litigator at the Department of Labor.

If the younger Scalia's appointment gets slammed as nepotism, it wouldn't be his first brush with controversy. Eugene Scalia, a labor lawyer, is a partner at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. And last December, that firm won a suit called Bush vs. Gore in the Supreme Court. Though Eugene Scalia insisted that he had nothing to do with the case, there were calls for Justice Scalia to recuse himself.

Coincidentally, Ted Olson, the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner who successfully argued the case before the Supreme Court, is Bush's choice for solicitor general. That nomination is currently stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

-- Alicia Montgomery

Daily line

"The president is very concerned about the rise in gasoline prices ... During the campaign last year there was much made about the possibility of repealing the federal gas tax, or limiting the federal gas tax. The president did not join in that call."
-- White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

Bush buzz

For weeks, the Bush team talked up the energy crisis. Now, it can't seem to get anyone to talk about anything else. Fleischer's comments about the president's intention to leave the federal gasoline tax in place, despite the prospect of $3 gallons of gas this summer, hogged headlines and overshadowed a major Bush address pushing for fast-track trade authority.

Fleischer was swamped with energy queries during his regular press briefing on Monday, where he repeatedly derided a possible cut in the 18-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax as a "quick fix" that the president wasn't interested in pursuing. "The president is not going to focus on what Washington always focuses on, which is political solutions to get you through the night," Fleischer said. "He's going to focus on long-term solutions that get the American people through both the night and the day."

But encouraging Americans to switch to a conservation-conscious lifestyle doesn't qualify as a long-term solution in the president's book. "That's a big no," Fleischer replied when asked whether Bush would make such a request of the public. "The president believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policymakers to protect the American way of life." Fleischer added that Bush's long-term priorities would be more fully outlined in a White House Energy Commission report due for release next week.

In other energy policy news, two oil refineries that are lagging behind schedule in creating low-sulfur gasoline are getting a break from the Bush administration. Christie Todd Whitman, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced that Wyoming Refining Co. of Newcastle, Wyo., and the National Cooperative Refinery Association of McPherson, Kan., will both be granted a two-year extension to comply with the Clinton administration's demands that they clean up their acts.

Meanwhile, in a speech before the Council of the Americas, the president demanded that he be given fast-track trade authority. "Open trade is not just an economic opportunity, it is a moral imperative," he said. Bush asserted that free trade was responsible for promoting freedom in less democratic countries throughout the world. "Look at our friends, Mexico, and the political reforms there. Look at Taiwan. Look at South Korea," Bush said. "And someday soon, I hope that an American president will end that list by adding, 'Look at China.' I believe in open trade with China, because I believe that freedom can triumph in China."

China just won't cooperate with Bush's often-stated hopes for its rehabilitation, however. The Chinese government has clearly declared its intention to hold onto the American spy plane that made an emergency landing there last month.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to put American military might into space and will make that a priority in his mission to revamp his department. A missile defense shield is just the beginning of Rumsfeld's plans -- which include separate Pentagon budgets devoted to developing space-based programs. His plans are earning some snickers on this side of the Atlantic, and even less enthusiasm abroad. So the Bush team has launched its famous charm offensive to change the hearts and minds of our European allies, at least on missile defense.

But America's charm has fallen short in the United Nations again. The U.S. has been kicked off the organization's Narcotics Control Commission. It was the second ego bruise the U.N. has dealt America in less than a week, coming days after the U.S. was bounced from the Human Rights Commission. Some blame the Bush administration's diplomatic sloppiness for America's U.N. troubles, while others claim that member nations are sacrificing the organization's mission to take a cheap shot at the U.S.

And don't miss a report that Vice President Dick Cheney cheated on his heart-healthy diet, sneaking some steak that his wife tried to keep away from him at the White House Correspondents Association dinner. Bushies quash reports that they had a hand in encouraging former President Clinton to travel to China, claiming it was all Clinton's idea. And former Vice President Gore will make the trip to his daughter's Harvard University graduation despite having reportedly been passed over as a commencement speaker.

Tuesday schedule: In the afternoon, Bush honors the Small Business Person of the Year. Later, he speaks to the Electronic Industries Alliance at the Grand Hyatt in Washington. First lady Laura Bush makes a rare solo appearance, traveling to South Carolina to address "Troops to Teachers," a teacher-recruiting program aimed at retired military personnel. Watch a live interview with Cheney on CNN at 10:45 a.m. ET.

-- A.M.

It's all Grecian to me

Oh the shame! American leaders are still battling over who's to blame for last Thursday's U.N. vote to kick the U.S. off its Geneva-based Human Rights Commission. It marks the first time the U.S. hasn't been represented on the commission since its inception in 1947. France, Austria and Sweden all beat out the U.S. for the three slots open to Western nations. But the real diplomatic black eye was probably the reality dose of seeing such champions of human rights as Pakistan and Sierra Leone represented, when we're not.

If it weren't for the vocal defense of allies like the United Kingdom and Canada, it might seem as if the entire world is gloating at our international comeuppance, after years of American muscle-flexing in the General Assembly.

Among our enemies -- whether "states of concern" or "strategic competitors" -- the Iraqi and Chinese press were absurdly self-congratulatory. Iraq's al-Jumhuriya daily quoted an Iraqi government spokesman this way: "No doubt that Iraq's heroic stance in denying the American criminal tyranny has now become an example followed by many countries resisting the detestable American domination. ... Those countries, which voted in favor of ousting the U.S. from the UNHRC, must have taken into consideration the American bloody record in violating the rights of the Red Indians and the black people in America, in addition to criminal foreign policies through wars and imposition of unjust embargoes against several world countries. "

And in China, where leaders were recently roused by the spy plane standoff, the People's Daily argues the ouster didn't come soon enough. "The U.S. election loss shows that America's long-standing pursuit of confrontation and hegemonism in international relations has aroused widespread anger ... Its double standard on human rights issues has made it unqualified to critique the human rights situation in the world and among other nations."

But even Saudi Arabia, generally a staunch ally of the U.S., took swipes at Washington. "This setback has stripped the United States of its pretense of being the guardian of human rights and democracy around the world," opined the newspaper Al-Riyadh. Of course, U.S. has a two-pronged policy of promoting business with Saudi Arabia while at the same time criticizing its monarchy for oppression, much the way it operates with China, which might explain the gloating at the U.S. humiliation on the issue.

No such sentiments are shared by our neighbors up north. "The result is a serious setback for the cause of human rights," states an editorial in the Montreal Gazette. "The United States was a strong and principled voice in denouncing rights abuses around the world. The decision to exclude it looks like a deliberate attempt to silence an outspoken critic. The absence of the United States will undermine the credibility of the agency and reduce the pressure on offending nations to clean up their acts."

More surprising, even the Bush-bashing UK Guardian "blasted the U.N. vote. "If the UN truly thinks that human rights are better guarded by Pakistan, Sudan and Sierra Leone (to name but three successful candidates) then it's destined for deserved derision. ... What was wrong about the human-rights ballot was that it was secret and sneaky and a touch cowardly."

-- Daryl Lindsey

This day in Bush history

May 8, 1990: Portions of Oliver North's White House diaries were released, showing that North had met with Vice President George Bush just a few hours after he testified -- and lied -- to the House Intelligence Committee, denying that he had supplied military advice to the contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Rant: Walk, Christie, walk

Bushed! is only two weeks old, but already we're feeling the need to revisit old material. In our inaugural column we suggested that Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman ought to resign to protest her inability to do her job: protecting the environment in the face of Bush administration efforts to please its backers in the energy industry.

Whitman, you'll recall, was humiliated by Bush in early February, when he reversed a campaign promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions barely a week after Whitman told European leaders he would move ahead on that front. Then came her Earth Day embarrassment, when she told reporters that the top-level Energy Task Force she's a part of would recommend not drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, only to be contradicted by Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, who attributed Whitman's statement to "confusion."

This week comes news that Whitman may be on the losing end of another environmental battle -- whether to push forward federal lawsuits to force coal-fired energy plants to install modern pollution controls. The EPA chief (who's for them) is said to face opposition from heavy hitters Vice President Dick Cheney and Energy Secretary Spence Abraham, who are sympathetic to coal industry cries that such lawsuits would stifle their ability to produce power. The issue may even surface in Cheney's Energy Task Force report, which went to the printer Monday night. The New York Times reports that coal industry leaders are pushing to include restrictions on EPA lawsuits among the task force recommendations.

Whitman has some resources in this fight, most notably the lawsuits that have already been filed, and she joined several of them as New Jersey governor. But the smart money has to bet against her, since she hasn't yet won a battle against Cheney and his energy industry friends. Here's hoping that Whitman will either win a round or else muster some backbone and walk if she's humiliated a third time in barely 100 days at the hands of Cheney and energy industry polluters.

-- Joan Walsh

Poll watch

The country is beginning to heed the energy crisis call of the Bush administration, according to a recent poll by Newsweek. The survey, conducted May 3-4, found that 53 percent of Americans now believe that the nation is in the midst of an energy crisis. Furthermore, 52 percent are willing to put the discovery of new sources of energy ahead of protecting the environment, while 41 percent still want the environment put first. That's a shift from Newsweek's April poll, in which 49 percent placed the priority on energy exploration and 44 percent favored environmental protection.

Though that's an indication that Bush and Cheney have convinced the public that there is a crisis, the poll shows they have not been as successful at convincing the American people that the administration has the best qualifications to solve the crisis. When asked what effect the president's and vice president's experience in the oil industry is having on their policies, 50 percent say that it makes them likely to side with industry over consumers. But 44 percent think that their backgrounds make Bush and Cheney better suited than they otherwise might be to formulate a workable national energy plan.

Americans also disagree with the administration about who's to blame for the current problems with energy availability. While 62 percent believe that the Clinton administration's policies contributed a lot or somewhat to the "crisis," 85 percent say that domestic energy producers are exploiting the current climate to overcharge consumers for their products.

This poll has a 3-point margin of error.

Bush job approval

  • 57 percent, Newsweek, May 3-4
  • 57 percent, Los Angeles Times, April 21-26
  • 56 percent, CBS News/New York Times, April 23-25
  • 56 percent, NBC News, Wall Street Journal, April 21-23
  • 62 percent, CNN/USA Today/Gallup, April 20-22
  • 63 percent, ABC News/Washington Post, April 19-22
  • 63 percent, Fox News, April 18-29

    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, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

    Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

  • Salon Staff

    MORE FROM Salon Staff

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------

    George W. Bush