Friday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
March 12, 2004 7:32PM (UTC)

A lot of fretting
The Los Angeles Times talks to key Republican officials and strategists expressing concern about President Bush's re-election campaign, "saying the White House took too long to engage in the race and lacks a clear strategy for addressing voters' economic worries."

"'People are anxious,' said David Carney, a Republican strategist in New Hampshire and White House political director for Bush's father. 'There's a lot of fretting going on out there.' Much of the hand-wringing stems from recent polls that showed Bush trailing Kerry nationwide. Most Republicans see that as the inevitable result of steady pounding from Democrats who have been campaigning -- and bashing the president -- for well over a year."

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" But not everyone blames Bush's problems solely on his political foes. 'No jobs are being created. They did not find weapons of mass destruction' in Iraq, said Eddie Mahe Jr., a veteran GOP strategist. 'That provided the constant stream of attacks a level of credibility and legitimacy they otherwise might not have.' The nervousness is a notable shift from earlier Republican bravado, as is the criticism of a White House political team that, until recently, has been widely regarded as perhaps the best in the business. 'We've seen a lot of mistakes and, frankly, some degree of incompetence out of an operation that, up to now, was closing ranks and executing very well,' said a GOP strategist who sometimes advises the White House. Like some others interviewed, he did not want to be identified."

White House threatened Medicare expert
Knight-Ridder reports that the "government's top expert on Medicare costs was warned that he would be fired if he told key lawmakers about a series of Bush administration cost estimates that could have torpedoed congressional passage of the White House-backed Medicare prescription-drug plan."

"When the House of Representatives passed the controversial benefit by five votes last November, the White House was embracing an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office that it would cost $395 billion in the first 10 years. But for months the administration's own analysts in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had concluded repeatedly that the drug benefit could cost upward of $100 billion more than that."

" Richard S. Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which produced [a] $551 billion estimate, told colleagues last June that he would be fired if he revealed numbers relating to the higher estimate to lawmakers. 'This whole episode which has now gone on for three weeks has been pretty nightmarish,' Foster wrote in an e-mail to some of his colleagues June 26, just before the first congressional vote on the drug bill. 'I'm perhaps no longer in grave danger of being fired, but there remains a strong likelihood that I will have to resign in protest of the withholding of important technical information from key policy makers for political reasons.' Knight Ridder obtained a copy of the e-mail."

Welcome mat for terrorists?
The Washington Times writes up comments by the head of the Border Patrol union critical of the Bush administration for cutting funds to patrol the borders. In his view, Bush is "'rolling out the welcome mat for terrorists and illegal aliens' in seeking to legalize millions of foreign nationals illegally in the United States and in proposing budget cuts 'thinning the ranks' of America's border force."

"Budget and personnel cuts, coupled with the proposed amnesty for illegal aliens, make it clear that this administration is not at all serious about securing our homeland or enforcing our immigration laws," T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), told a House subcommittee. "Foreign terrorists continue to pose an extreme threat to the safety of our nation, and illegal immigration remains out of control," said Mr. Bonner, a Border Patrol agent for 26 years. "How can anyone contemplate cutting the funding and staffing of our first line of defense?"

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"At a budget hearing of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims, Mr. Bonner said that despite a $3.6 billion increase proposed for Homeland Security for fiscal 2005, the Border Patrol -- whose responsibilities include 6,000 miles of international border -- is slated for cuts totaling more than $18.3 million."

The tangled web
The new round of Bush-Cheney '04 ads released on Thursday, these attacking John Kerry, calls for a new round of setting the record straight. The Washington Post debunks the president's charges that Kerry would "gut" intelligence spending.

"In terms of accuracy, the parry by the president is about half right. Bush is correct that Kerry on Sept. 29, 1995, proposed a five-year, $1.5 billion cut to the intelligence budget. But Bush appears to be wrong when he said the proposed Kerry cut -- about 1 percent of the overall intelligence budget for those years -- would have 'gutted' intelligence. In fact, the Republican-led Congress that year approved legislation that resulted in $3.8 billion being cut over five years from the budget of the National Reconnaissance Office -- the same program Kerry said he was targeting."

"The $1.5 billion cut Kerry proposed represented about the same amount Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), then chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told the Senate that same day he wanted cut from the intelligence spending bill based on unspent, secret funds that had been accumulated by one intelligence agency 'without informing the Pentagon, CIA or Congress.' The NRO, which designs, builds and operates spy satellites, had accumulated that amount of excess funds."

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"Bush's charge that Kerry's broader defense spending reduction bill had no co-sponsors is true, but not because it was seen as irresponsible, as the president suggested. Although Kerry's measure was never taken up, Specter's plan to reduce the NRO's funds, which Kerry co-sponsored with Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), did become law as part of a House-Senate package endorsed by the GOP leadership."

The AP looks at another charge in Bush's anti-Kerry ad: That Kerry would raise taxes by $900 billion. The AP says: "Kerry has never called for a $900 billion tax increase, but that's one estimate for the cost of his health care plan. Kerry has said he wants to repeal the tax cut Bush gave to wealthy Americans, but that would save nowhere near $900 billion. His campaign has promised to flesh out his tax-and-spending plans in the next few weeks. Bush may have forced his hand."

Stumbling on the economy
The San Francisco Chronicle looks at the latest misstep by President Bush's economic team as the White House's first choice for manufacturing czar withdrew his name from consideration because he opened a plant in China -- a point the Kerry campaign pounced on. "Democrats are pouncing on a series of stumbles by President Bush's economic team, claiming it's evidence the administration doesn't have a credible strategy to deal with a flood of U.S. manufacturing job losses," the paper says.

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"Bush administration officials insisted that Raimondo's withdrawal was not connected to the Democratic attack but instead was related to Nebraska political issues The flap over the manufacturing job was the administration's latest economic miscue on this year's hot-button political issue of U.S. companies sending manufacturing production and even service jobs such as telephone call centers overseas to save on labor costs -- a process known as outsourcing The missteps have left Democrats gloating."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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