Bush league: At the president's side
Can you judge who's in and who's out in the Bush Cabinet based on who he'll be seen in public with? Considering administration problem child Christine Todd Whitman had just as many joint appearances with the president as Texas buddy Don Evans (six total), that might not be the truest barometer. Still, what does it tell us about poor Norm Mineta (a whopping one photo op)?
For your discussion, below are the number of Cabinet-level members of the Bush staff, ranked by the number of joint appearances with their fearless leader to date:
Secretary of State Colin Powell: 9
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson: 7
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham: 6
Commerce Secretary Donald Evans: 6
EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman: 6
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao: 5
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill: 5
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: 5
Education Secretary Rod Paige: 4
Attorney General John Ashcroft: 4
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman: 3
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez: 3
Interior Secretary Gale Norton: 3
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice: 3
Veterans Secretary Anthony Principi: 2
Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta: 1
Daily line "I think it would be a big mistake to shortchange fundamental priorities, like defense and education and the other things the president's called for, in pursuit of a symbolic goal that may well be in hand anyway."
--Mitch Daniels, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, discussing Bush's promise to leave the Social Security surplus unspent
While Bush has struggled to put the best face possible on the shrinking surplus, a report released Monday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is undermining his efforts. According to the CBO, the government has already lost the non-Social Security portion of the surplus entirely, and will gobble up $9 billion of the $162 billion in the federal retirement trust fund before the end of the fiscal year.
That's gloomier news than the fiscal forecast released by the White House Office of Management and Budget last week, which showed the nation with between $1 billion and $2 billion to spare outside of Social Security. At the time, OMB director Mitch Daniels and Bush himself said that that would be plenty of money for the nation's priorities, as long as Congress kept its spending in check.
But on Monday, Daniels stepped back from that assertion. He said that there wasn't an appreciable difference between the OMB's figures and those from the CBO, and that Congress shouldn't let the fear of deficit spending keep them from cooperating with the president's plans to boost the military's budget and implement school reforms. Daniels also characterized Bush's pledge to preserve the Social Security surplus as "symbolic."
Tell that to the Democrats. A new USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll shows that they're winning their rhetorical war with Bush over the shrinking surplus. According to the survey, 33 percent of Americans hold the president "very responsible" for the rapidly dwindling federal cash flow, compared to just 15 percent who said the same of congressional Democrats. The GOP -- and conservative Democrat Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia -- have slammed Bush-bashing by Democrats as partisan fear mongering. The Republican National Committee is countering Democratic anti-Bush ads with their own ad blitz defending the president.
But the president's critics, particularly those who resisted the $1.35 trillion tax cut from the start, are beginning to say "I told you so." And, despite Daniel's "symbolic" statement, it's unlikely that the Bush White House wants to revive a debate over whether there are positive aspects of deficit spending.
While Bush has just lately suffered severe criticism over his handling of the economy, his tussles with environmentalists are nothing new. Now green groups are banding together to stall the administration's plans to test space-based missile shield technology. The coalition has filed suit to stop construction of a testing site in Alaska, claiming that tests would upset the ecosystem. The Pentagon has said that it already completed an environmental impact study for the site during the Clinton administration, though the environmental activists claim that the earlier report didn't cover scenarios particular to Bush's testing schedule. If a federal court decides against the Pentagon, Bush might have to wait a year to commence work on the site.
While the suit could cost Bush aggravation, it would be nothing like the mess he'll face if the Democrats continue to score points at his expense on the surplus. The president has promised that the surplus will return, just as soon as Americans finish spending their tax cuts. But Bush and the Republicans need to come up with a backup plan in case the recession-wary public holds on to that money.
And don't miss the president getting into a groove with reporters. Though Bush is already famous for his friendly nicknames for members of the press corps, he's also developed a reputation for springing surprise press conferences that leave reporters little time to prepare, giving him an advantage. But the Washington Times suggests that Bush's confidence with the media is increasing. Last week, he gave a whole 24 hours notice before his announcement that Air Force Gen. Richard Myers was his pick to lead the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Tuesday schedule: Bush will speak at an American Legion convention in San Antonio, Texas.
This day in Bush history
Aug. 28, 1992: President George H.W. Bush and Democratic presidential contender Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton traded accusations of dishonesty and political opportunism on the campaign trail. Clinton slammed the Bush camp for accusing him of raising taxes 128 times during his tenure as governor. "George Bush and the Republicans are intentionally lying to win the election," read a Clinton campaign response. "They're just flat lying," responded Bush campaign bigwig Mary Matalin. "We're not so dumb as to attack on a wrong number."
Meanwhile, Clinton took his campaign to Bush's adopted home state of Texas, claiming that he could more than match the president's Texas roots. "My daddy was born here," Clinton told a crowd in Texas, "and I'm a whole lot more like you."
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