Conservatives gripe about tax cut, but Republicans play it cool in the Senate.

By Salon Staff

Published June 7, 2001 4:56PM (EDT)

Daily line

"I think it's going to be hard for whoever is in office to raise taxes on the American people, which is what you would be doing. It would be a tax hike. So there's a safe assumption that it will be permanent. The president certainly hopes so."
-- White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, downplaying concerns that Bush's tax cut can't last

Bush buzz

The president starts Thursday celebrating, signing a $1.35 trillion tax cut in a White House ceremony in the morning. But while there will be lots of conservative lawmakers there, smiling and sharing the photo op, many have been grumbling that Bush has pushed through a toothless tax cut.

While there are plenty of tasty tax breaks hidden in the fine print for Republican patrons, conservative critics say that the most important elements of the cut -- marriage penalty relief, elimination of the estate tax, cuts to the top income tax rates -- will begin years from now and are scheduled to end in 2010. That has sparked an effort among House Republicans to make the tax cuts permanent. But some Democrats question whether many of the cuts will survive at all if unforeseen events shift budget priorities. Regardless, the House GOP effort to extend the cuts is likely to die now that Democrats run the Senate.

On Wednesday, senators were getting adjusted to their new positions, with Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., moving into the role of minority leader, where he can be more freely partisan than his former role as majority leader allowed. The new majority leader, Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has set his version of the charm offensive in motion, coaxing GOP leaders to give up their insistence that Bush's judicial nominees get a sweetheart deal from the new majority.

Republicans had been pressing Dems to guarantee a floor vote for the nominees no matter what happened in the Judiciary Committee. Historically, nominations that failed to win the approval of a majority of committee members never made it to the full Senate. After demanding a written agreement on the matter, some GOP leaders hint that they will settle for Daschle's word that all nominees will be treated fairly.

Senate Democrats aren't very interested in compromise on their leading energy initiative, which is to pressure the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to implement power price caps to help energy-strapped California. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., has made price caps a priority in his new role as Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman. The Republicans killed a similar effort in the House, but Senate Democrats aim to force Bush's hand on the issue.

As Capitol Hill focuses on domestic political concerns, the White House has its eyes on Europe. The president is scheduled to travel there next week, and is trying to downplay disputes with America's European allies over global environmental policy and missile defense. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice is promising that the trip will stick to happy talk as much as possible.

So Bush will probably try to say very little about the study he commissioned from the National Academy of Sciences on global warming. While the president is skeptical of the concept, most scientists consider it is an established fact, and the new study declares that global warming is getting worse. That's bad news for Bush, who declared the Kyoto treaty on global warming -- which would mandate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions -- dead early in his term. The administration admits that Bush doesn't have an alternative plan handy, so it's unclear how he'll handle the issue in Europe.

The president did, however, attempt to fix another foreign policy blunder in preparation for his European tour. He ordered that America restart talks with North Korea with the aim of facilitating its reconciliation with South Korea and reducing the communist nation's military menace. In March, Bush, contradicting established policy and statements by Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that North Korea couldn't be trusted in talks, and that America would have to get some reassurances before participating in further negotiations. The North Koreans responded angrily, and progress in that area has stalled since.

And don't miss Swedish protesters planning to moon Bush when he visits Europe. The mass baring of butts is only part of what activist groups have in store for the U.S. president. Though authorities have warned them that the area around the European Union summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, will be strictly off limits, demonstrators vow that police will have to use force to stop their anti-Bush protests.

Back in America, some historians are charging that the Bush White House is covering the rear ends of Reagan administration veterans by foot-dragging on post-Watergate disclosure laws. Bush has delayed the release of 68,000 pages of Reagan administration documents that were supposed to have been made public in January in accordance with disclosure laws passed in the wake of the scandal. The administration says that it's scouring the paper pile for possible national security breaches. Some historians counter that Bush wants to scrub out unflattering information about Powell, other Reagan retreads who are back at the White House and his dear old dad.

In other administration news, death penalty critics can relax. Capital punishment is colorblind in America, according to a report from the Justice Department, which concludes that members of racial minorities aren't getting executed unfairly at the federal level as a result of bias. But death penalty opponents remain unconvinced.

Thursday schedule: Bush celebrates his first big legislative victory, signing the tax bill in a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. He then speaks at the Fourth National Summit on Fatherhood, wrapping up his official duties of the day with a photo op with the 2001 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. It will be his 18th sports-related event since taking office.

-- Alicia Montgomery

This day in Bush history

June 7, 1996: Texas Gov. George W. Bush was scheduled to share billing at the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project event with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Instead, neither one showed up that evening to kick off the San Antonio segment of a three-day Latino Vote '96 conference being held simultaneously in that Texas city and Los Angeles. But the double no-show had nothing to do with a political family feud, Bush and Clinton representatives insisted. There were simply scheduling conflicts.

Bush league: So sue me

Groups that believe President Bush has closed the White House door to their views are taking a detour to the courthouse to solve policy disputes. In the last month, a handful of advocacy organizations have filed or threatened lawsuits against Bush and his administration to fix what they see as holes in his policies. Here are the suits so far:

  • The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy filed suit on Wednesday against Bush to partially block implementation of the "global gag rule," the Reagan-era law that forbids U.S. funding of family planning groups abroad that advocate or offer information about abortion services. Bush reinstated the rule, suspended by Bill Clinton in 1993, on his first full working day in office. The CRLP charges that the Bush policy violates the First Amendment free-speech rights of Americans abroad who work for pro-abortion rights family planning groups.

  • The Violence Policy Center announced its suit against Attorney General John Ashcroft on Monday, charging that the Justice Department has delayed implementation of part of the Brady gun control law. Specifically, the VPC is challenging the Justice Department's stalling on setting up the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for firearms purchases.

  • Christopher Reeve and seven scientists filed suit in May after the Bush administration halted funding for fetal stem cell research and ordered Health and Human Services chief Tommy Thompson to do additional studies on the issue. Reeve and the other litigants charge that Bush acted outside the law in ordering the moratorium, and that the president's action is "preventing or delaying the advent of a cure for paralysis, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and other debilitating conditions."

  • The Natural Resources Defense Council is planning to file suit against the Bush administration over its plans to revisit Clinton administration rules controlling arsenic levels in drinking water. The NRDC charges that Bush's decision fell outside administrative rules and would ultimately violate right-to-know requirements.

  • California Gov. Gray Davis has threatened to sue the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission after Bush refused to endorse energy price caps during their meeting on May 29. Davis has said that he will wait until after an upcoming meeting with FERC officials to file suit.

    -- A.M.

    The lowdown: Reading the tabs

    It's not just the cops who are following Jenna Bush around Austin. The Weekly World News reports that "Bat Boy," the half-human, half-bat creature that it has been covering for years, has developed an adolescent crush on the president's daughter. According to the Weekly World News, Jenna's Secret Service detail and security officers at the University of Texas in Austin have had to shoo Bat Boy away from the campus on multiple occasions.

    Bat Boy apparently became smitten with Jenna after seeing her dance with her dad at an inaugural ball. After that, Bat Boy started following her. "We believe he tracked her from Washington to Texas, using his superior hearing and sense of smell," said a "Secret Service source." Or maybe he just read the newspapers that noted that Jenna studied at UT in Austin. Regardless, the Secret Service has shoot-to-kill orders should Bat Boy rear his pointy-eared head again in Jenna's vicinity.

    Thus far, authorities have not explored whether Bat Boy's stalking of Jenna is politically motivated. During the presidential race, Bat Boy endorsed Democrat Al Gore.

    -- A.M.

    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, 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!

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