Bush on the Hill

Robert Novak
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Posted: May 24, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's speech to House Republicans Thursday morning congratulating them on the compromise tax cut bill was scheduled 48 hours earlier, when there was no sign of agreement on the measure.

To achieve the compromise in time for Bush's speech, Vice President Dick Cheney -- himself a former House Republican whip -- was dispatched to Capitol Hill. Cheney met privately with the contentious chairmen of the two tax-writing committees, Sen. Charles Grassley and Rep. Bill Thomas, to hammer out an agreement.

The president talked to the GOP lawmakers behind closed doors in the basement of the Capitol. He received an enthusiastic reaction despite grumbling by conservatives that too many concessions had been made to Senate moderates.

DEFICIT NON-HAWKS

Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, who originally voted against President Bush's tax cut as a deficit hawk, has not signed on to a bill to force elimination of wasteful government spending.

A bill authored by conservative Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas would create a presidential-appointed 12-member Commission on the Accountability and Review of Federal Agencies (CARFA). Much as BRAC (the base closure commission) determines which military installations should be shut down, CARFA would decide the fate of other federal agencies and programs.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican deficit hawk who voted against the Bush tax cut, like Voinovich is not among the CARFA bill's 16 co-sponsors. Nor is Snowe's fellow senator from Maine, Susan Collins, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the measure. However, Sen. John McCain, another GOP foe of the Bush tax cut, this week signed on to the Brownback bill. Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia is the only Democratic co-sponsor.

NEW GOP BOSS

Both the White House and members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) have made clear that Ed Gillespie will have to cut ties completely from his profitable Washington lobbying firm to take over as the party's national chairman.

The RNC last year reluctantly bowed to White House demands that former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot be exempted from party requirements for a full-time chairman. Racicot is scheduled to become national chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election committee, with the possibility that he will be named attorney general -- the job he always has wanted -- in a Bush second term.

Some committee members are not enthusiastic about Gillespie, whose experience has been mostly inside the Washington Beltway (including service as a top aide to House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour). President Bush's political team sees Gillespie as a much stronger spokesman than Racicot, with the added advantage of being a Roman Catholic.

UNBORN POLITICS

Even with Laci Peterson's mother on Capitol Hill Wednesday pushing for action, the bill to protect the unborn met an obstacle when Democratic senators demanded the addition of hate crimes penalties to the bill.

The murder of Mrs. Peterson and her unborn son, Conner, generated support for legislation against the killing of a fetus. Despite fierce opposition from the abortion rights movement, the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio can command huge majorities in both houses of Congress.

The problem will come in the Senate, where an attempt to add hate crimes legislation, which is now stalled, will complicate the issue.

$25,000 PHOTOS

A ticket for last Wednesday night's massive Senate-House Republican fund-raising dinner at the Washington Convention Center cost $2,500, but 10 times that amount was needed to be in a picture with President Bush.

A record $25,000 contribution would enable Republican loyalists to be photographed with George W. Bush. The money would have to be donated personally, not through a political action committee.

A footnote: It was easy to tell out-of-towners, mostly corporate executives, from Washington insiders at the event. The former wore tuxedos. The latter, including Bush, were in business attire.