EPA nominee gets bad marks from -- the EPA. Plus: Bush hits new low in poll.

By Salon Staff

Published September 5, 2001 9:19AM (EDT)

Bush league: Toxic nominee

When Bush nominated former Ohio state environmental official Donald Schregardus to be the top Environmental Protection Agency enforcement officer, it's likely he expected to get grief from conservation and environmental groups. But he probably didn't anticipate that the EPA itself would contribute to the bad notices. The New York Times has reported that an EPA study of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency found that programs under that state agency were deficient, including some of those implemented at a time when Schregardus was in charge. The finding complicates efforts by EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman to show the administration's support of the troubled nominee.

Schregardus' nomination has encountered significant resistance all along. Democrats have been particularly suspicious about his investigation of a concentration of leukemia cases in an Ohio town built partially on the former site of a World War II Army dump. Both Democratic New Jersey Sens. Jon Corzine and Robert Torricelli wrote a letter to Bush expressing their concern about an October 2000 Labor Department finding that Schregardus steered the probe toward a conclusion that found no connection between the leukemia cases and the dump. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has declared her opposition to Schregardus, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., have placed a hold on the nomination.

But so far, Senate Democrats haven't shown much spine in fighting Bush nominees. To date, only Bush's pick to lead the Consumer Protection Agency, Mary Sheila Gall, has been rejected.

-- Alicia Montgomery

Daily line

"There is a new attitude in Washington, D.C. It used to be, let's see how much we can spend. Now it's going to be, let's show the American taxpayer we can be smart with taxpayers' money. And Congress is just going to have to adjust their appetites, and realize they can't spend their way out of town."
--President Bush speaking about the new political climate surrounding budget negotiations

Bush buzz

The president has a lot of catching up to do in preparing for the upcoming budget battle. The Democrats have been winning the propaganda war on the shrinking surplus, congressional Republicans are already taking the lead in promoting another tax cut, and the American people seem to be losing faith in Bush's ability to run the economy.

A new CBS News poll shows that 50 percent of Americans approve of Bush's job performance, an all-time low for the president in that survey, and a 10-point drop since March. Over the same period, the portion of the public that disapproves of the president's work has climbed 16 points, from 22 percent to 38 percent. The worsening reviews of Bush's performance correspond with increasing concerns about the economy. The survey found that 48 percent of Americans believe that the economy is getting worse and only 8 percent believe it is getting better, the most pessimistic public assessment of the economy that the poll has tracked since 1992.

So Bush will not be negotiating from a position of strength when he takes on the Democrats in this month's budget battle. In perhaps an early indication of Bush's vulnerability, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., reportedly wrung a promise out of the president on Monday to leave the Social Security surplus untouched.

That's a repeat of Bush's long-standing campaign commitment to treat the federal retirement fund as if it were in a "lock box." However, it contradicts the August efforts of Bush economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey and White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels to give the president cover for dipping into that money to fund education reform and a military spending increase. Lindsey declared that he'd advise Bush to tap the Social Security surplus in "an emergency," and Daniels characterized previous Bush promises not to spend that portion of the surplus as "symbolic."

The new promise also complicates Bush's options in supporting the capital gains tax cut plan that is now gaining momentum among congressional Republicans. In remarks during a Monday meeting with Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., Bush declined to endorse a capital gains cut outright, but did suggest that such a cut could stimulate growth. Daschle, however, has already expressed concern that Republicans have not considered the long-term implications of such a cut.

The domestic wrangling over the budget and the staggering economy may also intrude on Bush's Tuesday discussions with Mexican President Vicente Fox about immigration and trade issues. At one point, the White House seemed enthusiastic about moving ahead on Fox's request to grant legal status to over 3 million Mexican nationals who are currently in the country illegally.

While conservatives objected to an amnesty as an insult to immigration laws, others have renewed the argument -largely dormant during the recent boom years-that expanded trade with Mexico seriously imperils low-skill American workers. Unfortunately for Bush, he'll have difficulty arguing that American workers can just acquire new skills and move into booming tech or service sectors if their companies move to Mexico in search of cheap labor. That assertion played a major role in Clinton's trade promotion strategy, but will likely be undercut by increasing unemployment and economic insecurity.

And don't miss highly skilled members of the Bush Cabinet adjusting to taking orders from White House image-makers and political hacks. Despite Bush's promise not to run a permanent campaign from the White House, several Cabinet secretaries are finding that Bush values the loyalty and political savvy of his campaign veterans over their policy experience.

Wednesday's schedule: The president meets with Mexican President Vicente Fox at the White House in the morning. In the afternoon, Bush and Fox meet with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan. The day ends with a state dinner in Fox's honor, the first held by the Bush administration.

-- Alicia Montgomery

This day in Bush history

Sept. 5, 1989: President George Bush gives a major address announcing an $8 billion budget for fighting the war on drugs. Bush pledges that the new money will be used to build additional prisons to house drug offenders, aid Latin American countries in battling drug cartels and to expand domestic access to treatment and rehabilitation facilities.

Burning Bush

Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

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Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert , Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Alicia Montgomery, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

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