WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 9—Despite Vice President Dick Cheney’s latest cardiac emergency, the George W. Bush juggernaut rolled forward.
Taxes: With the support of the chamber’s Ways and Means Committee, Bush rammed the key portion of his $1.6 trillion cut through the House of Representatives. The committee forwarded the bill, which slices income tax rates in every bracket, after merely perfunctory discussion. Despite some parliamentary stalling tactics by Democrats, 10 party members voted with the GOP majority, helping the measure pass by the comfortable margin of 230 to 198. The bill reportedly is headed for trouble in the 50-50 Senate, where the Dem leadership promised to put up more of a fight, and where several moderate Republicans question whether the $1.6 trillion tax cut is fiscally sound. Bush could win if Southern Dems come over to his side, as they did in the House.
Labor: In a joint campaign, Bush and the GOP Congress rescinded the Clinton administration’s last-minute ergonomics rules covering 45 million workers and costing an estimated $4.5 billion annually. The regulations would have provided for payment for worker disabilities, required redesign of faulty workplaces, and in certain instances increased payments to the injured. Republicans, joined again by Southern Democrats, argued the rules were unwieldy and cost too much. About 1.8 million Americans are believed to be suffering from work-related injuries.
Foreign Policy: Bush first embraced, then seemingly abandoned Clinton’s rapprochement toward North Korea, with Secretary of State Colin Powell insisting the Communist nation had better cut back its million-troop army before any real improvement in relations could take place.
Social Services: John Diulio, head of the White House Faith-Based and Community Initiatives office, sketched the outlines for a sort of quasi-public Compassion Capital Fund, which is to provide seed money for church-run social welfare projects. Diulio suggested the government’s contribution be limited to 25 percent of the total funding.
Transportation: The Federal Aviation Administration said it wouldn’t bother with competitive bidding on a new contract to rebuild the nation’s air-traffic control system, but would instead award the contract to Lockheed Martin. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, a former Lockheed vice president, says he is recusing himself from any part of the decision, in an effort to quell cries that the arrangement amounts to a conflict of interest.
Bush Cabinet: Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said he would keep his $100 million in Alcoa stock and options, raising questions about a possible conflict of interest since Alcoa is deeply involved in trade issues and sells to regulated industries.
Medicare: As long anticipated, Bush told congressional leaders he wants to refinance Medicare so that seniors could join a private health plan with Medicare paying part of the cost. Senior benefits would stay the same, and Medicare would help pay for drugs on a sliding scale with the poor paying nothing. This idea, a favorite of GOP conservatives, is modeled on the health insurance plan for federal employees.
Census: Bush came down in favor of Republicans interests, with Commerce Secretary Donald Evans ruling the 2000 count would not adjust its figures, which are used redraw congressional districts. The Democratic Party had hoped the government would rework the numbers to reflect untallied minorities and thus preserve their representation.
Military: Bush asked the Pentagon to reconsider its decision to make black berets part of the standard uniform for all soldiers, not just the Rangers—an act that infuriated the Black Berets because it reduces their legendary status in the military. To make things more humiliating, the black berets are to be made in China.