Bush Shadowboxes With Russia


WASHINGTON, D.C., March 26—As President George W. Bush entered his third month in the White House, he continued to show the nation what Republican values are all about: big business, fat-cat donors, and isolationist politics.

Cold War II: Relations between China and the U.S. remained rocky. Bush criticized China for detaining a Washington-based scholar and her family. Chinese leaders, in turn, warned they would step up the modernization of their army if the Bush administration sells weapons to Taiwan.

The Bush administration moved to expel some 50 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the recently discovered mole in the FBI. Russia immediately announced the expulsion of four U.S. diplomats.

And taking advantage of congressional ire at Russia for helping Iran set up nuclear power plants, Bush took aim at funds designed to help Russia reduce its nuclear arms, safeguard the nukes that remain, and encourage the nation’s nuclear scientists to seek nonmilitary jobs. Clinton had proposed expanding the program by 50 percent—for a total of $1.2 billion—but Bush is calling for a reduction of 10 percent.

Environment: Bush plunged ahead with a most conservative program to gut environmental regulations. At the behest of the mining industry, he canceled Clinton administration rules aimed at toughening standards for arsenic in drinking water. EPA administrator Christie Whitman said she intended to ease emission standards on autos, taking the pressure off car manufacturers to build cleaner vehicles.

Energy: Last week Bush suddenly discovered that the nation is not merely overly dependent on foreign oil, as he argued during the campaign, but in the throes of a full-blown energy crisis. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham worried the California brownouts are here to stay, and might even spread across the U.S. Bush’s answer is to step up drilling for natural gas—the fuel of choice for making electricity—in the Rocky Mountains, Alaska, and upper Michigan. These scare tactics had no visible effect on Congress, where Republicans wrote their own budget, which totally ignores the Arctic drilling program.

Health: In Orlando, Florida, the president repeated earlier promises to seek a patients’ bill of rights this year. But he wants to cap the liability of insurance companies, something the existing bills in Congress don’t address.

Taxes: Bush hung tough on his tax program, hoping the recession would push reluctant members of Congress into adapting the $1.6 trillion measure as pump priming to avoid recession—even as an increasing number of economists argued the tax relief would be too little, too late. Senate Democrats voiced support for a cut of $60 billion this year, but the two parties deadlocked over details.

Campaign Finance: The Senate rejected Bush’s proposal for a slight scale back in campaign finance methods. Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold beat back a bill that would have required labor unions and corporations to get permission from members and shareholders before making certain donations. The measure was widely seen as an attempt to siphon off Democratic support for McCain-Feingold.

Courts: Having expressed his distaste for the American Bar Association’s tradition of helping pick federal judges, Bush pulled the ABA—considered a liberal organization by many on the right wing—out of the screening process. Critics say this is a step toward appointing a more conservative judiciary. Some 100 slots are now vacant, giving the current administration great power in shaping the future of the courts.

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