Prez Wonders: Where Have All the Good Times Gone?


WASHINGTON, D.C., April 6—As he approaches the end of his first 100 days in office, George W. Bush is getting stuck in the mud. All of a sudden, Congress isn’t looking so friendly anymore. The economy is barreling toward the bottom. And the international press is on his case about everything from his refusal to deal with global warming to the embarrassing standoff with China.

Taxes: The Senate pared back Bush’s $1.6 trillion tax package. The Democrats’ proposed $450 million cut is, in the words of Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist, “unacceptable.” But he indicated that when push comes to shove, Bush will negotiate with the Dems, if only because he hasn’t got the numbers to win without some Democratic support. Meanwhile the president celebrated passage in the House of repeal of the estate tax. The House can also be counted on to support Bush on his overall tax program.

Campaign Finance: Senator John McCain, a veteran Bush nemesis, won a long battle in the Senate to ban the huge inflow of unrestricted soft money, which amounted to $500 million during the last election. The 59-41 vote was a clear victory for McCain and cosponsor Russ Feingold, who beat back White House attempts to kill Democratic support and defang the measure. The bill now goes to a divided House. Talking out of both sides of his mouth, Bush says he is for campaign finance reform, but won’t say whether he supports McCain-Feingold. Judging from his attempts to derail the legislation, most say Bush is clearly opposed to it.

Social Policy: Bush backed the beef industry, signaling his readiness to reverse a federal rule requiring that all ground meat in the school lunch program be tested for salmonella. Instead, the industry wants to serve meat that has been irradiated, killing off the bacteria but frightening parents. By week’s end, agriculture secretary Ann Veneman had been forced to step back from the decision.

Vice President Dick Cheney broke a 50-50 Senate tie on a Democratic initiative to cut back the Bush tax plan and spend the additional money for prescription drugs.

Ambushed by church-and-state criticism from the left and the right, Bush has put plans for faith-based welfare on the back burner, at least for the time being.

Balkans: The U.S. tentatively agreed to free up funds for reconstruction if the former Yugoslavia actually transfers former leader Slobodan Milosevic to the international tribunal at the Hague to face charges for war crimes.

Asia: China and the U.S. ought to be like two peas in a pod, both trying to rip off each other and everybody else in the race for global markets. Yet the clock ticks on as the Bush administration fails to get its downed spy plane and crew out of the communist nation and back on U.S. soil. To have let the incident get in the way of growing trade between both countries represents a real setback for Bush. It may please his administration’s relatively small right wing, who hate commies wherever they find them, but it can only irritate big business, which is counting on expansion into China.

Defense: Amid all the dreamy talk of revamping the military, the China crisis could turn out to be a life-saving jolt. Pissing off the Chinese means we will almost certainly have to boost Taiwanese defenses, something the right has been screaming about ever since the old days of the China Lobby. This means building the Taiwanese super-modern destroyers, which look more like electronic boxes than ships. They are stuffed with advanced radars, command and control systems, missiles, etc. Litton’s Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works in Maine would build the vessels, the engines would come from General Electric, and electronics would be manufactured by a myriad of Silicon Valley shops. In a stalled economy, a big uptick in defense spending would be much-needed pump priming.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and China will certainly continue to fight over hegemony of southern Asia. Especially contentious is the Strait of Malacca, a shipping route for oil from the Middle East to China, which increasingly relies on imported barrels to fuel its modernization.

Environment: Bush kept on reversing environmental rules to help out big businsess. He has reversed federal rules limiting carbon dioxide and reduced air pollution standards for automobiles. Meanwhile, he has dumped the Kyoto global warming treaty and moved toward gas exploration on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains.

The White House is reported ready to cut back planned standards for energy-efficient appliances and reduce spending for developing alternative sources of power from the wind and sun.