Inside Report: Muzzling the President

Posted: Feb 10, 2001 12:00 AM
For all the new power provided George W. Bush as president, it has deprived him of a pleasure he enjoyed while governor of Texas: communicating privately with friends and close associates via e-mail. All of the president's e-mails from the White House are now government property and not his own, thanks to congressional restrictions on Bill Clinton during his presidency. That, Bush's lawyers tell him, ends his private communications. A footnote: Contrary to his reputation as a big-picture rather than a hands-on president, Bush wants to interview candidates to be administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA). It is extraordinary for a president to concern himself with a middle-level appointment, even if HCFA does deal with the important Medicare issue. KEEP THE AVENUE CLOSED WASHINGTON -- Wednesday's shooting incident accelerated lobbying by the Secret Service for President Bush to keep Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House closed to vehicular traffic. What's more, the FBI and CIA -- agencies not responsible for presidential safety -- joined the campaign against opening what used to be called "America's Avenue." President Bill Clinton closed the street in response to Secret Service pleadings after an earlier shooting incident. Bush insiders said the latest incident will have no impact on his decision, particularly since it shows a pedestrian can be just as dangerous as a driver. During his presidential campaign, Bush hinted at restoring full traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue, and the Republican national platform promised it. WHITE HOUSE GLOOM Members of Congress were stunned by the gloomy outlook conveyed in a closed-door briefing Wednesday by Lawrence Lindsey, President Bush's national economic adviser. Lindsey told them the economy is deteriorating at a more rapid pace than the public realizes and warned of a deep recession unless there is a major tax cut. But lawmakers at last week's briefing got the impression that Lindsey, a former governor of the Federal Reserve Board, was taking jabs at current governors of the central bank who claim the economy is headed in the right direction. Only last month, Lindsey said: "The Fed is always right." A footnote: In the early weeks of the Bush administration, former Harvard professor Lindsey has been assigned tasks well beyond his specialty. He has been handed responsibility for census disputes and labor problems. SUPPLY-SIDE CONVERT The big surprise at last week's House Republican policy retreat in Williamsburg, Va., was the fervent support for President Bush's across-the-board tax cuts by Rep. Bill Thomas, the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Thomas, a California moderate, has always seemed skeptical of supply-side doctrine. But at Williamsburg, he sounded like an ardent supply-sider when he delivered a rousing defense of the theory that tax rate reductions stimulate economic growth. When he finished his presentation, Thomas asked whether any of his colleagues objected to either his message or the Bush plan. None did. But among the silent House members are moderates who are devising a "debt trigger" that would automatically reduce long-term tax reduction. PRINCE OF PORK? Former Rep. Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, who has just ended his long reign as Capitol Hill's "king of pork," is running into fierce opposition from Republican leaders in trying to install his son William as heir to his long-held congressional seat. Shuster was one of the most powerful members of Congress in distributing highway funds to individual members. But when term limits on House committee chairmen, self-imposed by Republicans, ended his tenure heading the House Transportation Committee, he suddenly resigned from Congress last month and launched a campaign for his son. John Eichelberger, a Republican county chairman and longtime GOP factional foe of Shuster, is front-runner for the nomination to be made next Saturday. He has accused the former congressman of pressuring party leaders to crown William Shuster, whose political experience is scanty. The senior Shuster has attacked Eichelberger as "unfit to hold public office."