Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- Republicans in Congress, particularly members of the California delegation, privately accuse Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force of providing no cover from constituents' anger over soaring energy prices. The major complaint: President Bush has not offered any plan to cope with the energy crisis. But members of Congress also grumble that the Cheney task force has not let Capitol Hill know what it's doing. Asking for substantive proposals to answer voter complaints, the lawmakers instead received talking points. Meeting with the California Republican delegation, Cheney suggested that he take a statewide tour to answer energy concerns. Several congressmen replied that the vice president should keep out of the Golden State rather than give the impression that the blackouts are the fault of George W. Bush instead of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. WHITE HOUSE DOGHOUSE Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the Senate Finance Committee's new chairman, is in the White House doghouse for saying the top individual income tax rate cannot be brought down from 39 percent to 33 percent as desired by President Bush. The White House is telling Capitol Hill it has not retreated from the 33 percent level. The House version of the tax bill will hit that figure, but it will be difficult to go below 35 percent in the Senate in view of Grassley's position. A footnote: Also in the White House doghouse is former Education Secretary William Bennett, who has waged a prolonged attack on the president's education bill after making compromises with congressional Democrats. GETTING ACQUAINTED The Democratic and Republican co-chairmen of President Bush's bipartisan Social Security reform commission -- former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and communications executive Richard Parsons -- got acquainted over lunch last Tuesday. They lunched at the Caucus Room, a favorite restaurant for lobbyists across the street from Moynihan's condo in downtown Washington. The two New Yorkers had hardly known each other before their appointment a week earlier. Parsons suggested that the commission define the Social Security problem late this summer before offering remedies. A footnote: Ed Crane, who as the libertarian Cato Institute's president often is critical of Republican initiatives, is high on the Moynihan-Parsons commission. He especially commends Bush's inclusion of African-American billionaire Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television and a liberal Democrat. Johnson could help sell blacks on Social Security privatization. HILLARY'S TARGET Sen. Hillary Clinton may be pulling back slightly from her first big Senate initiative: to kill President Bush's nomination of Mary Sheila Gall as chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). At this writing, the White House had not received a letter, promised by Clinton April 25, asking Bush to reconsider the appointment. Nor has she answered Gall's April 26 letter, asking the senator to explain President Bill Clinton's re-appointment of Gall to the bipartisan CPSC in 1999 as a Republican member. Sen. Clinton has assailed Gall for her opposition to CPSC regulations on baby bath seats, crayons and bunk beds. But Gall, a native New Yorker from Buffalo and a single mother of two adopted Guatemalan children, may prove an unwise target for Clinton. Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee have delayed a hearing on Gall until early June. DEMOCRATIC THREAT IN DIXIE George W. Bush's political operatives, fearing Georgia's Gov. Roy Barnes as a Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2004 who could threaten the South, would like a challenge to his 2002 re-election that would rough him up even if it is impossible to defeat him. Republicans want a self-financed candidate forcing a major expenditure for Barnes in a year when Democratic Sen. Max Cleland also faces re-election in Georgia. A possibility is Lewis Jordan, former head of ValuJet airlines. A footnote: Neither Democrats nor Republicans in Georgia take seriously speculation that Democratic Sen. Zell Miller will change parties and become a Republican. But Miller is unhappy about his treatment by Democratic leaders since he supported President Bush's tax cut.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.
 

 
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