WASHINGTON --Ardent right-wingers who attend the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington Thursday through Saturday will not hear from Vice President Dick Cheney or Attorney General John Ashcroft. Both were listed as speakers in CPAC's advertisements, but neither will come.
President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the hottest possible current attractions for conservatives, both turned down invitations (with the president saying no even to a drop-in). Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson is the only Cabinet member on the speaking schedule. But Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife, will address the conference.
A footnote: Justice Department lawyers said Ashcroft could not appear at CPAC because of ethical considerations. That apparently did not prevent Solicitor General Theodore Olson, the Justice Department's third-ranking officer, from accepting an invitation to be a head table guest.
Vice President Dick Cheney, usually silent at the weekly luncheons of Republican senators, spoke up last Wednesday to plea with them not to criticize his refusal to make public the secret records of his energy task force.
Requesting time at the luncheon to say a few words, Cheney said he had in the course of his long government career seen a steady deterioration of presidential power. That's why he was so determined to fight congressional demands regarding the task force. The vice president then launched into a technical case against the General Accounting Office's ruling that task force records must be revealed.
A footnote: The Senate GOP leader and deputy leader, Trent Lott and Don Nickles, left the luncheon predicting that the administration eventually will give up the information. That expressed the private desire of an overwhelming majority of the senators present.
A ROSY GREENSPAN
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's optimistic testimony Thursday before the Senate Budget Committee was intended to make up for his unintentionally gloomy speech in San Francisco 13 days earlier.
The original version of that speech contained a balance between optimism and pessimism. Fed staffers, however, were afraid that this might be too stimulative for markets and removed the good news from the final draft. The result was Greenspan's dark declaration in San Francisco that the economy still faces "significant risks."
Greenspan's testimony Thursday omitted talk of "significant risks," cautiously predicting an end of the recession without an inflationary impact.
The veteran Republican Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico had no sooner begun reading his opening statement at Thursday's Senate Budget Committee meeting than 80-year-old Sen. Ernest (Fritz) Hollings of South Carolina erupted in loud guffaws.
Hollings was reacting to Domenici's defense of President Bush's economic policy, including tax cuts. Hollings was joined in derisive laughter by at least two other Democratic senators: first-termers Hillary Clinton of New York and Deborah Stabenow of Michigan.
Domenici, a former Budget Committee chairman, interrupted his statement to say that he was not aware he was telling jokes. The Democratic senators subsided but did not apologize.
DEMOCRATS FINESSE TERRORISM
A "poll" mailed by the Democratic National Committee to potential contributors totally omitted any mention of terrorism. It did not even list fighting terrorism among nine "issue priorities" it asked to be ranked in order of importance.
The only question dealing with the events of Sept. 11 is one claiming to deal with homeland security: "Do you agree with the House Republicans who wanted to continue allowing low-paid non-federal agents to oversee airport security checkpoints?" House Republicans actually lost that battle months ago.
The questionnaire asked for contributions of $150 or more to answer questions on Social Security, health care, education, the environment, abortion, gun safety and tax cuts for "the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans."