Tuesday's must-reads

By Geraldine Sealey
Published March 30, 2004 3:14PM (EST)

Under penalty of perjury
Exasperated commissioners of the 9/11 panel used strong words to describe what they want out of Condi Rice: "I would like to have her testimony under the penalty of perjury," said chairman, Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey. The New York Times looks at the latest in the panel's efforts to get more testimony from the president's national security adviser. If she won't testify in public, the commissioners say, they want her under oath. And they're not taking no for an answer.

From the Times: "The chairman and vice chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks said on Monday that they would ask Condoleezza Rice to testify under oath in any future questioning because of discrepancies between her statements and those made in sworn testimony by President Bush's former counterterrorism chief  Ms. Rice has granted one private interview to the 10-member, bipartisan commission and has requested another. But the White House has cited executive privilege in refusing to allow her to testify before the commission in public or under oath, even as she has granted numerous interviews about its investigation."

"The White House declined to respond to Mr. Kean's comments. One official who had been briefed on discussions between the White House and the commission said Monday night that several options were under consideration that might lead to a compromise over Ms. Rice. The official, who asked not to be named because of the delicacy of the negotiations, declined to specify the options and said nothing had yet been decided. The decision to restrict her availability has led Democrats and other critics to accuse the White House of trying to hide embarrassing information about its failure to pre-empt the Sept. 11 attacks."

As for the White House argument that there is no precedent for national security advisers to testify before Congress, the Times ran this graphic showing three examples since 1980.

(Update: At about 10 a.m. ET, NBC News and CNN sent breaking news email alerts that Rice and the White House finally caved. Rice has agreed to testify under oath and in public before the panel.)

Lying about Kerry's record
Dick Cheney, out on the campaign trail, made a big deal yesterday of John Kerry's record on taxes and repeated the debunked claim -- but still a favorite of the RNC and Bush-Cheney '04 -- that Kerry has voted "at least 350 times for higher taxes." The Los Angeles Times today does a better job than most news organizations have done at exposing the bogus charge -- and right in the lead of its campaign story. (Although the headline writers might have noted that the "critics" who say Cheney's figure is misleading are nonpartisan watchdogs who have proven the claim to be entirely wrong. As written, you'd think the criticism might be coming from political opponents who you'd expect it from.)

The Times story starts: "Vice President Dick Cheney took the lead in a coordinated Republican attack Monday, charging that John F. Kerry has voted 'at least 350 times for higher taxes' during his Senate career. But the claim was disputed by nonpartisan watchdog groups as being based on an inaccurate interpretation of Kerry's record. Cheney, speaking before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, called Kerry a 'senator who will speak out against higher taxes when it suits the political moment but is one of the most reliable pro-tax votes in the United States Senate.' In addition, a 60-second national radio ad launched Monday by the Bush campaign featured a Boston law enforcement officer declaring that the Massachusetts senator 'likes to raise taxes. So much so he's voted for higher taxes 350 times.' Some independent organizations say the claim about Kerry's 350 votes for tax increases is misleading."

"The Bush campaign's list of Kerry's votes for 'higher taxes' includes votes in which the senator voted to leave taxes unchanged, said Brooks Jackson, director of FactCheck.org, a private nonpartisan policy organization based in Washington. The list also includes votes in which Kerry backed proposals to cut taxes, though not as much as Republicans advocated. 'Such a standard does not pass the straight-face test for credibility,' said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group."

Democracy at work -- for one man
Here's another story for the Medicare bill fiasco file. Mother Jones looks at who stands to gain from a section of the bill that Speaker Dennis Hastert called the most important -- "a little-noticed tax rebate set to cost the Treasury $6.4 billion over the next decade [and] allows Americans to open tax-free 'health savings accounts.'" The rebate is a bonanza for one Republican campaign donor, Mother Jones points out.

"He is J. Patrick Rooney, a major Republican campaign donor from Indiana who has done more than anyone else to make health savings accounts a reality. Rooney is the chairman emeritus of the Indianapolis-based Golden Rule Insurance Co., which has been selling health savings accounts through a now-expired pilot program that Rooney helped convince Congress to approve in 1996. Just days before the new Medicare bill passed, UnitedHealth Group, the largest insurer in America, paid $500 million in cash for Rooney's family-owned company -- a move that analysts said was directly tied to the Medicare bill's provisions broadening the market for health savings accounts."

"Rarely has a basic federal program been so tied to one man or one company. In their 10-year campaign to promote health savings accounts, Rooney's family, companies, and employees have given $3.6 million to political candidates and committees, with 90 percent going to Republicans. Rooney and his companies gave another $2.2 million to Republican organizations, including $121,000 to help pay for President Bush's Florida recount battle, and nearly $1.9 million for a group called the Republican Leadership Coalition, which ran attack ads against Al Gore during the 2000 campaign. Rooney also registered himself as a lobbyist and spent close to $2.2 million working the halls of Congress and the White House."

Kerry's own Rangers
The Christian Science Monitor reports that despite all the talk of President Bush's massive campaign coffers, "Democrats are increasingly confident about their ability to match Bush's war chest -- or at least minimize his fundraising edge. Senator Kerry, who is embarking on a 20-city fundraising tour, is raising money at a faster clip than expected -- fueled in part by a record amount of online donations. His campaign now expects to raise $80 to $100 million by the end of July. At the same time, a number of Democratic-leaning interest groups are helping to level the playing field by running anti-Bush ads in key battleground states."

"But still more central, many analysts say, is that the relative heft of campaign war chests may be less important in this election. While campaign advertising can play a big role in elections with no dominant issue, this year's mix of war, terrorism, and job losses at home virtually guarantees that November's results will hinge much more on external events than on political spending."

Al Franken's radio debut
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reminds us that Al Franken's call-in show and the Air America radio network debut on Wednesday. "If a liberal commentator performs on talk radio and nobody listens, does he really make a sound? Stay tuned. Al Franken, voice of the political left, tests the ideology's commercial radio-worthiness Wednesday, when he debuts his call-in show, the centerpiece of the Air America network."

"The political author and former 'Saturday Night Live' comedian offers himself as an antidote to Rush Limbaugh, whose conservative shtick has filled AM airwaves in national syndication since 1988. In a country evenly divided politically, talk radio is not. Limbaugh is the leader, spawning legions of on-air copycats. 'We're going to call them on what they say,' Franken said during a phone interview after a recent practice run in New York. 'It's jujitsu. We take what they say and hold them up to scorn and ridicule. That's what I do.'"

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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