Bush is booed at Yale while Dems stall his tax cut in the Senate.

Published May 22, 2001 11:59PM (EDT)

Daily line

"I think you can see that the people that do not want a tax bill are trying to use every delaying tactic they can to either slow down or stop this bill, and it is not going to happen."
-- Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, speaking after opponents of the Bush tax cut delayed a Senate vote

Bush buzz

Though Republicans in the Senate had predicted a successful vote for the Bush tax cut plan on Monday, a string of attempts to amend the legislation forced the GOP leadership to put off a vote until Tuesday. However, the major amendment challenges failed, and the tax cut plan is still expected to clear the Senate largely intact. At that point, the White House will have to decide whether to push for the House version of the bill, which is much closer to the president's vision, or stay closer to the Senate compromise. If the president chooses to press for the House version, moderate Democratic senators threaten to rescind their support, and several members of that party are already angry about what they see as Bush's unwillingness to compromise.

Losing isn't Bush's only risk in the tax cut fight. If he prevails, then the legislation is likely to become the defining action of his young administration, and Americans will begin to hold Bush more responsible for the economy. An economic upturn will be seen as a confirmation of Bush's tax cut philosophy, while a downturn will be prime ammunition for his Democratic opponents.

Some liberals think that the Democratic Party is taking too much of a chance in not fighting harder against the package. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., warned in a speech from the Senate floor Monday that the progressive agenda advocated during the Clinton administration, with an emphasis on environmental protection, healthcare and education reform, wouldn't be feasible in a post-tax-cut government. The money, Wellstone said, just wouldn't be there. Small-government advocates in the GOP agree wholeheartedly, and plan to push for additional tax cuts for business interests as soon as the initial tax cut plan has been finalized.

On the House side, Bush is trying to keep conservatives onboard for his education plan. Many of them object to his capitulation to Democrats' demands that school vouchers be dropped from the initiative, and want to have that part of the policy restored. On the other side of the aisle, Democratic stalwarts claim that it's their party that got rolled by Bush's team on education. With Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., emerging as an unlikely Bush partner in education reform, some Democrats believe that the plan surrenders too much to Republicans, who favor more nonpublic options for education.

While the Congress fought over his agenda, Bush accepted an honorary degree from Yale University, his alma mater. The president's self-deprecating speech made light of his record as a subpar student, but much of the crowd was not amused. More than 150 faculty members signed a letter protesting Bush's honorary degree, while several students booed or heckled the president. Others protested silently, holding up anti-Bush signs or simply turning their backs during his remarks.

Meanwhile, Bush's critics in Washington are hurling charges of hypocrisy at the administration for allowing a Republican donor event Monday night at Vice President Cheney's official residence. The reception was open to those who had given at least $100,000 to the GOP. Democrats and government watchdog groups said that the event was an inappropriate use of government resources for party fundraising, the same thing Republicans criticized the Clinton administration and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore over for the past several years. The GOP's response was that the event was merely a thank-you for party supporters, not a fundraiser.

And don't miss Bush Interior Secretary Gale Norton, delivering her boss's thanks to the National Rifle Association. Norton appeared at the gun group's convention on Saturday, and declared that, without them, Bush would still be cooling his heels in Texas. It was the first time that a Cabinet member had appeared before the NRA since Ronald Reagan sent then Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole to an NRA gathering in 1982.

Tuesday schedule: In the afternoon the president speaks to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund at the White House, and later makes remarks to the National Leadership of the Hispanic Faith Based Organizations Community. In the evening, the president headlines a Republican National Committee gala, his first major party fundraiser since assuming office. Bush appeared at a smaller gathering in late April on behalf of Sen. Tim Hutchison, R-Ark., that raised about $1 million. Vice President Cheney speaks in the morning to the Nuclear Energy Institute's 2001 assembly in Washington.

-- Alicia Montgomery

This day in Bush history

May 22, 1997: Gov. George W. Bush expressed reservations about, but signaled his approval of, a state healthcare reform bill. The new law would allow patients to sue HMOs if they felt that they had been wrongly denied care. "I have concerns about opening the door to new tort actions," Bush said. "Given the choice between doing nothing and doing something to address the significant problem that impacts the health of thousands of Texans, I have concluded the potential for good outweighs the potential for harm," Bush said. Bush had vetoed similar legislation in 1995.

Rant: "Civil" liberties

In his inaugural speech, President Bush promised to "set a new tone" in Washington -- one that would restore "civility" in a city worn out by an era of partisan warring. Fast-forward to this spring, and the rules of civility in the Bush-era White House are becoming clear: Don't criticize us, and we'll remain civil.

Last weekend, after California Gov. Gray Davis criticized the Bush energy plan for lacking any viable options for dealing with California's rising energy bills, Vice President Cheney made the Sunday talk show rounds to nail Davis for the state's energy woes. On NBC's "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert, Cheney said the Gray era is "a very good example of how not to address energy problems," adding, "They didn't build any new power plants for 10 years."

Of course, California didn't build any new plants for 12 years -- 10 of which were under the watch of Republicans, not Davis. But Cheney was undeterred. "They knew they had a problem over a year ago, and Gray Davis refused to address that problem, kept putting it off and putting it off, with the notion that somehow price caps could be maintained. Now, today, where are they in California? Well, rates are having to go up ... They've got rolling blackouts ...They bankrupted the biggest utility in the state, destroyed the state's credit rating and squandered a significant portion of the state's financial surplus in a harebrained scheme to try to use the state to purchase power."

Californians trying to follow the serpentine developments of the state's energy fiasco might not understand exactly how the current problems developed, but they're bright enough to recognize Cheney's gross simplification -- especially when he refuses to factor in a polarized Legislature and questionable actions by the state's energy providers. His only qualifier came when he later told Russert: "In fairness to Governor Davis, the screwy regulatory scheme they put in place was supported on both sides of the aisle out there, but he was the one who was in charge when it went haywire." True, but that "screwy regulatory scheme" was also set in motion by then Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, back in 1996.

Cheney's outburst was a love letter compared with the bitter words a Department of the Interior spokesman fired off at Robert Redford. Seeking a photo op that would symbolize Bush's goal of working across party lines, Interior Secretary Gale Norton had invited the left-leaning Redford to join her in the dramatic release of three rare bald condors (Redford starred in "Three Days of the Condor" -- get it?) at California's spectacular Big Sur. Redford said no. "Sadly, since assuming the interior secretary post, you have compiled an abysmal record of capitulating to big businesses at the expense of the nation's public health, public lands and wildlife," the actor wrote.

That sparked a startling response from Mark Pfeifle, Norton's spokesman. "It was hardly an indecent proposal for Mr. Redford to spend an afternoon with ordinary people releasing an endangered bird," he quipped. "Unfortunately, Mr. 'Three Days of the Condor' chickened out." Jeez.

And then there's the administration's relationship with the press corps, which is made up of many reporters already tamed by the Bush administration during the campaign, having learned you don't have to step too far out of line to feel the sting of the lash. Washington's finest conservative magazine, the Weekly Standard, has been boycotted by the administration for its open and unapologetic support of John McCain during the primaries. When Standard editor William Kristol criticized the Bush administration's kid-glove handling of the spy plane standoff with China in April, the acerbic Cheney accused Kristol on ABC News' "This Week" of "trying to sell magazines." And this month's Washingtonian reports that Karen Hughes is upset about the "smart-assed" edge of the Washington Post -- which has seemed downright skeptical of the new administration compared with its competitors -- after Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer reportedly waged a war against Post reporter Dana Milbank, whining to his editors that Milbank doesn't play nice.

That's not very civil. Actually, as Milbank argued in his book about the 2000 campaign, "Smashmouth," political rhetoric probably shouldn't be preoccupied with being civil. It should be direct and argumentative and even, at times, a little rude. And that's just how the Bush team practices it, with one major caveat: Critics of the administration are supposed to keep their traps shut while the Bushies can be as nasty as they want to be. Now that's an indecent proposal.

-- Daryl Lindsey

It's all Grecian to me: Notes from the foreign press

Did the Bush administration's ambivalence cause the most recent escalation of the Middle East conflict? Early on Friday, Israeli forces bombed Palestinian territory with F-16 fighter jets in retaliation for a suicide bombing earlier in the day that killed six and injured over 100 at an Israeli shopping mall. That attack prompted new outrage in the Mideast, and prompted Vice President Cheney to call the violence "worrisome," though he stopped short of urging Israel to call off the use of its warplanes.

A leading article (Euro-speak for "editorial") in Switzerland's Basler Zeitung under the headline "Bush's Middle East Hesitance" alleges that the new administration's Middle East uneasiness helped pave the way for the current disaster.

"Bill Clinton's slogan was 'It's the economy, stupid.' George W. Bush took something from that, too: Voters will hardly reward him for investing too much political capital away from the homeland," writes Dieter Osterman. "Nowhere else has this been more clearly depicted in recent months than in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. As the difficult achievements of 10 years of the peace process dissolved in smoke and hate, the new U.S. administration was nowhere to be seen. By each subsequent wider escalation, Washington reacted, more or less, with weary calls for restraint. Hawks in both parties in the conflict have openly assessed this to mean that the U.S. isn't really serious about its appeals -- and that Washington doesn't need to be taken seriously anymore either. In doing so, the U.S. unintentionally contributed to the escalation of the situation."

Meanwhile, as the Middle East situation spiraled further out of control, the U.S. announced its intentions to abandon yet another international treaty. A report in Sunday's New York Times hinted that the administration would abandon the Geneva protocol of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which would ban the use of biological weapons. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has championed the ban, and after the U.S. abruptly pulled the rug out from beneath the Kyoto treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Europeans aren't likely to take the new development lightly. The European press is already sharpening its talons.

"The United States is poised to reignite European fears of American isolationism by rejecting a draft agreement prohibiting biological weapons despite Tony Blair's strong support for the deal," London Daily Telegraph journalist Toby Harnden writes. "Without U.S. backing, the protocol would be meaningless."

The Bush administration is apparently concerned that inspection provisions of the Geneva protocol could leave American pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies susceptible to industrial espionage.

But European sensibilities and America's new fear of multilateral agreements aren't the only hot spots on the Bush agenda. There's a battle brewing closer to home -- and it even has a Bush energy policy tie-in. According to the Calgary Herald: "Soaring oil and gas prices are causing a modern-day gold rush in the United States, as energy companies and speculators snap up land in search of a hydrocarbon bonanza." And Canada could become the first victim of that energy grab.

Of concern to the Canadians is the proposed 660-megawatt generating station on the Washington-British Columbia border known as "Sumas 2." According to the paper, the plant would emit 142 tons of nitrogen oxide a year, 202 tons of particulate matter, 42 tons of sulfur dioxide, 142 tons of volatile organic compounds, 96 tons of carbon monoxide and 2.2 million tons of carbon monoxide. Most of the toxins in the laundry list compiled by the Herald "would drift over the border into British Columbia's Fraser Valley." And that can't make the natural-resource-rich Canadians very happy.

-- D.L.

Burning Bush

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Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Karen Croft, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

By Salon Staff

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