WASHINGTON -- With Treasury Secretary John Snow's continuation in office uncertain, the White House is seriously considering former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas as his possible successor.
President Bush has never been an intimate of Gramm's, and did not think of him for Treasury four years ago when he made the disastrous choice of industrialist Paul O'Neill. However, according to sources close to the president, he is giving his fellow Texan a serious look this time. Gramm is now an investment banker.
Snow at the Treasury has been a hard worker who loyally presses the Bush program. However, there are complaints inside and outside the administration that the ex-railroad executive is not equipped for many Treasury duties, especially international monetary affairs. Gramm is a Ph.D. in economics and a former professor.
Contrary to Capitol Hill rumors, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner did not reject President Bush's plea to yield on the 9/11 intelligence reform bill. Instead, they agreed on a compromise that was rebuffed by senators.
Bush, on his way to Chile, telephoned Sensenbrenner and asked him, because of Senate opposition, to drop the provision forbidding driver's licenses to illegal aliens. Sensenbrenner agreed, in return for the president's approval of other immigration and law enforcement provisions. However, Sen. Susan Collins, the lead senator on the 9/11 Senate-House conference, refused to go along.
As a result, the conferees accepted a bill similar to the Senate version that is dead on arrival in the House. Speaker Dennis Hastert pulled the bill last weekend after the House Republican Conference expressed opposition. Congress will try again to agree after it returns following Thanksgiving.
To show that President Bush is serious about reducing government spending, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is asking government departments to propose deep cuts.
Each agency is supposed to prepare a budget 5 percent lower than last year's request for all non-Defense and non-Homeland Security spending. They also are preparing an extreme ("nuclear") option proposing 10 percent reductions.
A footnote: As expected, President Bush has retained Joshua Bolten as OMB director. That is another disappointment for outgoing conservative Rep. Patrick Toomey, who lost his campaign to oust Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary after Bush supported Specter. Toomey, a strong fiscal conservative, wanted the OMB post.
HARRY REID WINS
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who will become Democratic leader in the next Congress, won a battle of wills in the lame-duck session by getting his science adviser, Gregory Jaczko, a seat on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) without being confirmed by the Senate.
Jaczko, a 34-year-old physicist, like Reid opposes the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. With Jaczko opposed by the nuclear industry and nearly all Republican senators, Reid in retaliation held up dozens of President Bush's nominations in the lame-duck session.
Reid released his hold after the White House agreed to put Jaczko on the NRC with a recess nomination made when Congress is not in session. That will not please Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who refused to give Jaczko a hearing. According to administration sources, Yucca Mountain will not be taken up during the first of Jaczko's two years on the NRC.
Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who declared he was not voting for George W. Bush's re-election and considered leaving the Republican Party, may face trouble in Rhode Island's 2006 GOP primary.
Chafee's conduct upset Rhode Island Republicans, who may support Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey in a possible Senate bid. Laffey, who describes himself as a populist and is more conservative than Chafee, won re-election by a landslide in heavily Democratic Cranston after cleaning up its finances.
Independent voters, comprising about half of Rhode Island's electorate, can vote in the Republican primary to save Chafee. But many will be attracted to a multi-candidate Democratic contest to oppose conservative Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri.