Prez Clashes With Own Party on Key Issues

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 16—For the first time since taking office in January, President Bush ran into heavy flak this week on Capitol Hill.

Taxes: The president sent confusing signals as the stock market plunged last week, telling reporters Wednesday that he has "great faith in our economy," but declaring in a later speech, "Our economy is beginning to sputter." The worsening economic outlook, complicated by the free fall in the stock markets, ought to help pave the way for Bush's gigantic $1.6 trillion tax cut, which he argues is economic pump-priming.

Not so fast, Mr. Shrub, warned New Mexico's heavy-hitting senator Pete Domenici, who says the proposal may not have enough votes to pass without a few compromises. Democrats and moderate Republicans want a smaller cut and a "trigger" that would nix the reduction if projected surpluses don't pan out.

Campaign Finance: John McCain turned fighting mad at Bush's refusal to back his bipartisan campaign finance bill. The president wants a token version with no real bans on funding.

Faith-based Initiative: The Bush administration was forced to deny rumors it was stalling on a proposal to have religious groups offer social services. The plan has come in for heavy and unexpected criticism from right-wing evangelicals, who say the concept unfairly favors lefty congregations that already have programs in place. They also question whether fringe groups they consider cults should be given government funding. Moreover, fiscal conservatives questioned whether providing more tax breaks for charitable contributions would cost the government more than it would generate in donations.

Bankruptcy: The House and Senate passed different versions of a law that would make it harder for average Americans to erase their debts through bankruptcy, instead allowing credit card companies to track down debtors and seize their property. Clinton vetoed similar legislation last session, but Bush says he's ready to sign.

Environment: Bush gave in to industry all over the lot. He reneged on a campaign promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, leaving EPA director Christie Whitman, who had touted the policy, twisting in the wind. Next, Bush told The Denver Post there was plenty of room in the nation's parkland for oil drilling and other development. "There are parts of the monument lands where we can explore without affecting the overall environment," Bush told the paper. "It depends upon the cost-benefit ratio."

Energy: Spencer Abraham, the energy secretary, openly suggested California would get hit by blackouts this summer and expressed hope that the electricity shortages would not cascade across the country. Bush wants to leave the job of fixing the California deregulation mess to the free market, where his Texas campaign supporters have been raking in the cash.

Pardongate: Attorney General John Ashcroft said he wouldn't pursue Clinton's pardon scandal, but did not stand in the way of a wide-ranging investigation of pardons by Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. White already had begun an investigation of Denise Rich's role in obtaining a pardon for her former husband, the former fugitive financier Marc Rich.

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