While Bush is in California trying to convince Democratic Gov. Gray Davis to let the market work its magic in the California energy crisis, the American people are ready to blame the oil and electric companies for high power prices and energy shortages.
According to the latest poll from CNN/USA Today/Gallup, conducted from May 18 to May 20, oil companies topped the list of power culprits, with 85 percent of those surveyed saying that that industry deserves "some" or "a great deal" of the blame for "the country's current energy problems." While several other groups topped the 80 percent mark for carrying at least some of the responsibility for energy problems -- foreign oil-producing nations rated 81 percent, American electric companies rated 85 percent and Congress rated 82 percent -- the oil industry was the only sector where the majority of those surveyed (52 percent) placed "a great deal" of blame.
Though this attitude toward the energy industry doesn't bode well for Bush's supply-boosting solutions to current power shortages, the president can take comfort from the fact that most Americans don't seem to be blaming him for the problems. Just 54 percent of those surveyed believe that the current president deserves at least some blame for energy problems, compared to 68 percent who believe that the Clinton administration does.
The poll has a 3 point margin of error.
Bush job approval
-- Alicia Montgomery
"California's electricity problems developed over a period of years and cannot be solved overnight. However, we can move now on actions that will help avert the same types of problems from recurring year after year."
-- Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in a news release tied to the president's trip to California
That famous Bush charm that supposedly softened the hearts of his political adversaries in Texas will be seriously tested Tuesday evening. After 128 days in office, the president finally traveled to California on Monday to chat with Democratic Gov. Gray Davis about the state's current energy woes.
Over the past several weeks, the Bush administration has been beating up on California politicians, blaming the state's power problems on its reliance on conservation as a method to reduce energy demand. Bush and Vice President Cheney have repeatedly held up California as an example of what not to do in energy policy. Californians, meanwhile, have blamed both Davis and the president for not doing enough to solve the energy problems.
Though his poll numbers in California have suffered as a result, Bush continues to oppose what Democratic politicians in the state believe would provide tremendous relief to its citizens: a federally mandated cap on energy prices. The state's Democrats have charged that power companies are manipulating output in an attempt to gouge consumers. The White House counters that price caps would only interfere with a market-based resolution of the crisis. In a conciliatory move, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham put in motion a plan for a Western Area Power Administration to increase transmission capacity.
The Bush-Davis energy showdown is just another story that has deflected attention from what was supposed to have been the president's greatest legislative coup so far, the passage of a $1.35 trillion tax cut. That happened on Saturday when the House voted 240-154 in favor of the tax cut plan, and the Senate approved it 58-43. The White House will hold off on the official signing ceremony until Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess next week. Democratic leaders continue to decry the Bush tax cut plan as irresponsible, shortsighted and tilted in favor of the rich.
Republicans hope that the $70 billion in tax rebate checks mandated by the bill will help blunt some of those charges and encourage Americans to spend more and thus boost the economy. But critics foresee delays and mistakes in getting the $300 to $600 checks into citizens' pockets, saying most of the 95 million American taxpayers will not see a dime until September.
And don't miss Democrats battling to separate more disgruntled Republicans from the GOP. With the White House still reeling from the loss of Sen. Jim Jeffords, Democratic leaders are reportedly wooing moderate Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island either to join the Dems or to follow Jeffords' lead and become independents. Chafee and McCain were the only Republicans to vote against the final version of the Bush tax cut.
Whatever the tax plan's drawbacks, the White House is wisely savoring the victory, considering that Jeffords' defection from the GOP means that Bush is likely to encounter more resistance to his agenda in the Senate. That resistance is not likely to come from the junior senator from Georgia, however. Democratic Sen. Zell Miller has been closely allied with Bush on several key partisan votes, including the tax cut and the confirmations of Attorney General John Ashcroft and Solicitor General Ted Olson. Though he believes that Democrats have become too liberal, Miller insists that he has no plans to switch parties.
Bush is hoping to persuade Russia to switch its position opposing his missile defense plan, and he's putting America's money where his mouth is. The president is reportedly planning to buy Russian weapon systems as one method to persuade the former Cold War superpower to quit griping about how missile defense would jeopardize the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Tuesday schedule: Bush meets with California Gov. Gray Davis to discuss that state's energy crisis.
This day in Bush history
May 29, 1995: Gov. George W. Bush visited the Texas Senate during its final day in session, during which Democratic state Sen. Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi mounted a daylong filibuster in an attempt to kill a property rights bill backed by Republicans. When it became clear that the GOP would stick with the bill and would brand him an obstructionist, Truan quit talking after more than 12 hours. As the legislative session closed, editorials in both the Austin American-Statesman and the Dallas Morning News declared that Bush's wins on crime, welfare and education issues disproved critics who had labeled him a lightweight.
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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
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