Inside Report: Economist Cheney

Posted: Feb 23, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- President Bush, burdened by the war against terrorism, has assigned new duties in formulating and presenting economic policy to Vice President Dick Cheney. The first sign of Cheney's new role came Feb. 15 when he addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. Instead of dealing with his national security specialty, the former secretary of defense dwelled on economic policy and emphasized the need for more tax reduction. Cheney's assignment reflects the unstated belief at the White House that neither Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill nor National Economic Adviser Lawrence Lindsey has proved satisfactory in the taking the economic lead. POWELL VS. CASTRO Secretary of State Colin Powell, who conservatives feared would move toward reconciliation with Fidel Castro, took a hard line recently with foreign ministers of Caribbean countries. At the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) meeting in Nassau, Bahamas, on Feb. 4, the diplomats urged Powell to change U.S. policy and open the way for material aid to the suffering people of Cuba. The secretary sharply replied that would not happen if President Castro continues his negative posture on human rights and democracy. A footnote: Powell supports and is on good terms with Otto Reich, an anti-Castro Cuban-American who has been installed as assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere after a recess appointment by President Bush. When Reich's nomination was stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate, his critics claimed Powell wanted a new selection by Bush. IS CHRISTIE LEAKING? In the usually leak-proof Bush administration, White House foes of Environmental Protection Administrator Christine Whitman claim her bureaucrats are leaking derogatory information to The New York Times and elsewhere about Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. Whitman is engaged in a fierce policy dispute with Abraham over President Bush's environmental course. Most of the administration's big guns are on Abraham's side in resisting the green lobby, but Bush is reluctant to alienate voters worried about the environment. One result of this tension was the president's recent alternative to the Kyoto global warming treaty, a compromise that satisfied nobody. Hard-liners allied with Abraham did not like the outcome but were pleasantly surprised by the mild reaction from free-market conservatives. EDWARDS VS. TRIAL LAWYER An unexpected explosion by multi-millionaire trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs against Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina actually was welcomed by influential advisers of Edwards who are counseling his potential campaign for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. Scruggs, the trial lawyer from Pascagoula, Miss., who led the national anti-tobacco drive, has become a major factor in Democratic politics thanks to his ample personal war chest. Edwards, his fellow rich trial lawyer, ignored Scruggs' advice and attacked the nomination of Federal District Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi for an appellate judgeship. Scruggs said he would no longer support Edwards for public office, and would urge politically potent trial lawyers across the country to do the same. That could dry up a major source of funds for the senator. Edwards' advisers, however, were delighted to see the senator separating himself from the trial lawyer network and ingratiating himself with African-Americans and other liberals. Edwards attacked Pickering's ties many years ago with segregationists. MODERATE GEPHARDT House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, a likely contender for president in 2004, continued to moderate his rhetoric in a new fund-raising letter that sharply contrasts with much harsher appeals from Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe. Gephardt's letter in behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee does not mention President Bush and implicitly supports his war against terrorism. Gephardt writes: "Make no mistake about it: America stands united in our battle to overcome terrorism." His restrained language contends that "House Republicans are not backing away from the conservative agenda they believe in." A new McAuliffe mailing never mentions terrorism and assails Bush for "the massive tax breaks for the rich, the disregard for programs that working families need."