Photo ops with George W. Bush or his wife didn't help three domestic organizations whose funding was slashed in the Bush administration's $2 trillion budget proposal, Salon.com's Jake Tapper noted April 14. In the weeks before the budget was unveiled either Bush or his wife, Laura, visited a children's hospital in Atlanta, a public library in Washington and a Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington, Del., to applaud their work. All three institutions would see their funding slashed in Bush's budget. "It's just more examples of Bush's illusion of inclusion," says Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. "It's politics at its worst, it's cynicism at its worst. He uses them for photo ops and props and then he axes them out of the budget."
White House spokesman Jimmy Orr insisted that the administration was "changing the tone in Washington," adding, "The budget is compassionate, it's responsible, and its goals are funding for important priorities like education, healthcare and children's programs."
But on March 1, when Bush visited Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta, he said, "There's a lot of talk about budgets right now, and I'm here to talk about the budget. My job as the president is to submit a budget to the Congress and to set priorities, and one of the priorities that we've talked about is making sure the healthcare systems are funded ... The point I want to make in this haven of love, a place of deep concern about children's health, is that we can fund priorities." Bush's budget for next year would cut funding for a pediatric training program that benefits hospitals like Egleston from $235 million in fiscal year 2001 to $200 million.
On April 3, standing in the Northeast Neighborhood Library in Washington, Laura Bush, a former middle school librarian, kicked off "The Campaign for America's Libraries." The first lady's visit, during which she called libraries "community treasure chests," came one week before her husband announced a $39 million cutback in federal spending on libraries.
The same day that Laura Bush was heralding the importance of libraries, Tapper noted, the president was standing in the H. Fletcher Brown Boys and Girls Club of Wilmington, Del., his sixth visit to a Boys and Girls Club since he began campaigning for president. "All of the federal money, as far as I'm concerned, for after-school programs ought to be opened up to every program in the state of Delaware," Bush said. He said the Boys and Girls Clubs of America share a portion of proceeds from his campaign autobiography, A Charge to Keep, but that won't make up for the federal funds he is cutting from the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which received $60 million for fiscal year 2001.
Bush also proposes to cut the $1.3 billion Community Oriented Policing program by 17%, the Christian Science Monitor noted April 19. The program has assisted in the hiring of 115,000 new police in the US in the past six years. Bush also wants to cut more than half the funds for a federal program he sought as Texas governor to repay states for taking care of illegal immigrants, the Houston Chronicle reported April 17. Bush would cut $299 million from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which helps local governments cover the costs of jail, courts, and medical care for immigrants.
Other proposed cuts include $2.2 billion slashed from environmental funding; a proposal to halve funding for research programs into renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power; elimination of a $162 million Wetlands Reserve program; $700 million cut from a program for construction and repair of public housing; and elimination of $25 million in disaster preparedness funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The administration said the program, which provides for shoring up buildings, "has not proved effective," despite its credit for minimizing damage during the earthquake that jolted the Pacific Northwest on Feb. 28.
R'S OVERLOOK 'PRE-DEATH' TAX. The Bush administration and Republican congressional leaders are pressing to repeal the tax paid by 2% of the largest estates, but Robert Kuttner in his April 16 column in the Boston Globe noted that another tax harms the estates of moderate income people while they are still alive. The ''pre-death tax,'' Kuttner explained, is the provision of the Medicaid law requiring middle-class people to ''spend down'' their assets to almost nothing so they can qualify for nursing home care as paupers. Medicare covers every senior citizen, rich or poor, but it doesn't pay for long-term nursing care. Medicaid -- the program for the very poor -- does cover nursing care, but patients must pay from their life savings until they are officially destitute. Kuttner noted that in 1998 patients ''spent-down'' $30 billion worth of personal savings -- the very amount the Republicans propose for estate tax relief. "In other words, we could entirely get rid of the pre-death tax on middle class people, if we simply chose not to abolish the estate tax on the wealthy. We could earmark proceeds of the estate tax for long term nursing home care for all, under Medicare," Kuttner said.
MAJORITY WANT HEALTH CARE EXPANDED. A poll by ABC News released April 9 found that 52% of respondents would rather have the government spend more on health care for the uninsured than see their taxes cut. Only 10% favor reducing these health services in order to pay for a tax cut. The results vary by income. The percentage favoring more spending on health rather than on tax cuts based on family income: less than $25,000: 67%; $25,000-$50,000 52%; $50,000-100,000 49%; more than $100,000 37%.
PUBLIC TRANSIT USE UP AGAIN. Public transportation ridership in the US was up 3.5% in 2000, compared to the previous year, according to statistics released April 16 by the American Public Transportation Association. A total of 9.4 billion rides were taken on the nation's trains and buses last year, the highest number of trips in more than 40 years. Public transportation grew four times faster than the US population (0.9%), faster than domestic air travel (2.6%) and car use, which was flat. In the past five years, the number of trips taken on public transportation grew by 21%, growing faster than the population (4.8%), highway use (11%), and domestic air travel (19%).
GROUP WARNS RAD FOOD HARM. Public Citizen is urging 350 of the largest food companies and industry groups to refrain from selling irradiated food. Letters and information packets explaining the potential hazards of irradiated food have gone to companies and groups such as Burger King, Campbell Soup Company, Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods to the National Chicken Council, the National Restaurant Council and the National Food Processors Association. "Americans demand and deserve fresh, wholesome, safe food that has been grown and processed in clean environments," said the letter, signed by Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The bottom line is that irradiation will not make food cleaner. It merely masks unhygienic slaughtering and processing practices, while corrupting nutritional integrity." Among its many hazards, irradiation can deplete vitamins and nutrients, form new chemicals that have never been studied for toxicity, and corrupt the flavor and odor of food. Additionally, the US Food and Drug Administration did not properly assess the safety of irradiated food before legalizing it for human consumption, Public Citizen says. See www.citizen.org/cmep/.
ACTIVISTS BEAT COAL 'SLAPP' SUIT. Environmental groups hailed a federal court's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the coal industry that had sought to silence debate on global warming. The lawsuit attacked the groups for a Dec. 13, 1999, newspaper advertisement in the New York Times entitled "Global Warming-How Will It End?" The advertisement highlighted the causes, potential impacts and possible solutions to global warming and mentioned "coal" as a cause. The lawsuit, denounced as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP, was filed last year by Western Fuels Association, naming as defendants the Turning Point Project, the International Center for Technology Assessment, Friends of the Earth, Ozone Action, Earth Island Institute and the Rainforest Action Network. The lawsuit attempted to establish a new legal precedent by invoking the federal Lanham Act, which only applies to commercial speech among competitors, in a case involving only political speech. Judge William Downes of Wyoming dismissed the lawsuit. He held that Western Fuels' had failed to show why the environmental groups, based in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, should be sued in Wyoming. He also held that the case was about speech.
POLLUTION DATA RELEASED. New toxic pollution data released April 12 by the US Environmental Protection Agency show that ongoing industrial toxic pollution continues to affect American communities nationwide. Environmental and public interest groups say the data also demonstrate the need for better environmental protections, while the Bush administration has moved to roll back several environmental policies. The Toxics Release Inventory documented nearly 8 billion pounds of toxic chemicals that American industries reported releasing to the environment in 1999. In Utah and Nevada, industries released more than 1 billion pounds just within those states. The most polluting industries were the mining and electric utilities industries, with mining companies releasing almost half of the total toxic releases among all industries.
LAWSUIT EMBROILS BUSH COUNSEL. In shades of Whitewater, the real estate dispute that dogged Bill Clinton throughout his presidency, a lawsuit involving allegations of political favors and big money campaign contributions in Texas is threatening White House counsel Alberto Gonzales -- and perhaps George W. Bush. Michael Isikoff reported in Newsweek April 21 that Gonzales is thought at the top of the president's "short list" to fill the first available vacancy on the US Supreme Court, but lawyers for Eliza May, a former whistleblower who served as executive director of the Texas Funeral Services Commission, the state agency that regulates the funeral business, are seeking a court order to question Gonzales about an April 22, 1996, memo sent to his office when he was Bush's gubernatorial counsel.
The memo, written by the chief lawyer for the funeral agency, suggested possible improprieties by two funeral commissioners with ties to Service Corporation International, a huge Houston-based funeral conglomerate headed by Robert Waltrip -- a longtime friend and generous financial patron of the Bush family. The lawsuit alleges that Bush's office interfered with a state investigation into SCI's embalming practices that was then being spearheaded by May. Waltrip had contributed $45,000 to Bush's gubernatorial campaigns and more than $100,000 to the elder George Bush's presidential library. May was later fired from her job -- an action that has formed the basis for her lawsuit that she was the victim of "political" retaliation.
Bush and his top aides have denied the charges and suggested the entire matter was drummed up by Democratic lawyers with political motives. But Bush's sworn statement that he never had "any conversations" about the SCI case was contradicted by SCI lobbyist Johnnie B. Rogers' statement that he had briefly spoken to the then governor in April 1998 when he and Waltrip arrived at Bush's office to hand-deliver a letter to chief of staff Joe Allbaugh demanding that May's investigation be halted. "Hey Bobby [Waltrip], are those people still messing with you?" Bush said to Waltrip when he saw him in Allbaugh's office, according to Rogers' account at the time. Rogers later disputed the quote. Texas state judge John Dietz then denied May's lawyers' efforts to further question Bush, saying that they should first question others with more knowledge of the facts in the case.
AG RUNOFF CHOKES GULF. Runoff from farms in the upper Midwest contributes to a dead zone the size of New Jersey located in the Gulf of Mexico off the Mississippi River. Coastal waters and two-thirds of the nation's rivers and bays are degraded from nutrient pollution, much of it coming from farms, according to a scientific study published April 12 in Science magazine that demonstrates the extent of environmental harm from chemical-dependent agriculture. Use of nitrogen fertilizer has risen dramatically, leading to massive pollution of coastal waters. Agricultural nitrogen fertilizers that run off into coastal areas squeeze oxygen from the water, leaving behind "dead zones" devoid of most life forms. All of the governors of the states in the upper Mississippi basin have signed the Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force Action Plan, which would reduce nitrogen flux in the Mississippi basin by 30% in 15 years, but federal assistance is necessary for the plan to succeed. For information see www.environmentaldefense.org/deadzone.
DRUG INDUSTRY MOST PROFITABLE. The pharmaceutical industry was named "more profitable than any other" by Fortune magazine in its new analysis of America's most successful companies and industries in 2000. The industry has been consistently ranked number one or two by Fortune over the past few decades. Public Citizen noted that the outsized profits makes the drug industry's opposition to Medicare prescription drug coverage unconscionable. Fortune reported that the 11 drug companies in the Fortune 500 enjoyed rates of profitability (measured in return on revenue) that were three to four times greater than the median for all industries in the Fortune 500. Pfizer, the second-largest drug company, has seen the value of its stock increase a stunning 1,454% over the last decade. Public Citizen's own analysis of the 11 drug companies financial reports (available at www.citizen.org) shows that profits -- not research and development of new medicines -- were the top priority, as Fortune 500 drug companies plowed 30% of their revenues into marketing and administration, while committing just 12% of revenues to research and development. Profit accounted for 17% of revenues.