United States News Digest
Growing Revolt Among GOP Over Bush Arrogance Toward Congress
When Rep. Heather Wilson (R-Calif) declared her concerns about President George W. Bush's NSA wiretapping operations last week, she was giving voice to what many other Republicans were thinking, the New York Times reported Feb. 11. The Times named six Senate Republicans, in what could be described as a growing institutional revolt against the Bush Administration over its arrogance towards the Congress. Even Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is generally supportive of the NSA program, is quoted saying "The real question is do we have oversight?"
* Sen. Susan Collins (Me): "There is considerable concern about the Administration's just citing the President's inherent authority or the authorization to go to war with Iraq as grounds for conducting this program. It's a stretch."
* Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) said Wilson's comments were "a sign of a growing movement" by lawmakers to reassert the power of the legislature.
* Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb): "I don't think anyone wants any kind of constitutional showdown over this. We want the President to succeed, but the fact is we are a coequal branch of the government and we have serious oversight responsibilities."
Also cited are Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (Pa), who said he would draft legislation to have the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rule on the constitutionality of the program.
Cheney-Bush Provoke Republicans on Another Front
Congressman Sander Levin (D-Mich) held a crowded press conference call on Feb. 9 attacking President George W. Bush for the "disappointing surprise" inclusion of Social Security privatization in the White House's budget proposal. "We don't want to have this fight again, but we will. We're putting Republican Members on notice," Levin said.
So nasty is this Cheney-Bush proposal, that it includes eliminating the Social Security "death benefit" for widows and orphans, to save $55 million a year; it also proposes to cut some benefits, and squander $70 billion a year on creating Wall Street private accounts. Levin said that Bush, in his State of the Union message Jan. 31, had talked about forming a bipartisan commission on entitlements; but in the budget submission, he made that impossible by demanding another battle over privatization.
Asked by EIR how Republicans in Congress had reacted to Bush's proposals, Levin quoted a statement issued Feb. 9 by Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa): "I have no plans to pursue these proposals. The Administration didn't consult with me on these proposals. Even if someone had, I'd be hard-pressed to give them a second look."
House Working Group Resets U.S.-China Agenda
Characterizing the House of Representatives discussions on China as "relentlessly negative, and, many times, uninformed," Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) described the work of the 35-member House U.S.-China Working Group, during a presentation this evening at the School of Advanced International Studies. Citing "disastrous decisions by the British Empire" which led to World Wars I and II, Kirk said the U.S. could make the same mistake of arrogance, if it does not recognize the growing importance of China. He described the U.S.-China diplomatic relationship as the "most important of the 21st Century."
While House discussion on China centers on controversial such issues such as Taiwan, trade, and currency, the bipartisan Working Group is focussing on deepening diplomatic relations, by establishing a hotline between the DOD and the Chinese Defense Ministry, cultural exchanges, encouraging the learning of Chinese in American schools, increasing the number of U.S. diplomatic missions in China, and cooperation in space. On a recent trip to China, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash) said, his group were the first foreigners since 1989 to visit the Chinese space launch center.
Larsen explained that in the state of Washington, China is not the "Far East," but our "Near West." China is not "waiting for the U.S." in space, Larsen said, and is already working with Europe, Brazil, and South Asian countries. Asked about "containment," Larsen said that "China's already out in the worldthere is nothing there to contain." On a question about China's pursuit of energy resources, Kirk indicated that the discussion in the House on China's possible oil company purchase reflected a "Napoleonic view," with too much focus on who owns what. On Chinese energy resource forays into Ibero-America, Kirk said that there are "negative trends" in U.S. relations there, and "bad feelings on free trade." Chinese investment in Ibero-America "could spur growth there," he said, which would be good for the U.S.
The Working Group has previously set up briefings in the House on China's response to avian flu, and on defense policy. It plans to raise issues in the Congress in April during President Hu Jintao's visit on space cooperation and the defense link.
GOP Still Resisting Oversight of Cheney Torture Policy
Republican members of the House International Relations Committee demonstrated on Feb. 8 that they still prefer to block any inquiry into the Bush Administration's torture policy. The Committee voted to report adversely three resolutions of inquiry introduced by Democratic members of the House. The three resolutions amounted to subpoenas of the Bush Administration for documents relating to Administration policies on extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects to third countries to be tortured, the Convention Against Torture, and secret prisons. All three were rejected by nearly party line votesonly Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) broke ranks to vote with the Democrats on all three resolutions, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) on the one relating to rendition.
Committee chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill) set the Republican tone early in the proceeding by accusing the Democrats of wasting the committee's time and seeking political advantage in an election year. Furthermore, he said, there have been a dozen investigations in the Pentagon, therefore there's no need for Congressional oversight. Other Republican members of the committee, notably Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla), Dana Rohrabacher (Calif), and Dan Burton (Ind), only got more insulting from there. Congressman Ed Royce (Calif) even complained that at least one newspaper has labelled Dick Cheney as "the Vice President for Torture."
Democrats, on the other hand, asserted the constitutional responsibility of the Congress to conduct such oversight of the Executive Branch. They especially bristled at the notion that their only motive was partisan politics, and that to question the policies of the Administration in the war on terrorism is anti-patriotic and gives aid and comfort to the enemy. Democrats, one after another, warned that the Congress is in danger of becoming a rubber stamp unless it fulfills its constitutional oversight responsibilities.
Louisiana Congressmen Blast Bush Budget Plan
Louisiana's Congressional delegation blasted President Bush's budget plan as more of the same failed policy as occurred in responding to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Feb. 8. Louisiana lawmakers from both parties ridiculed the slow pace of the recovery, especially the critical storm-protection needs which will go unmet as Bush's budget plans to cut the overall U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budget by 11%. The cuts to the Corps include no money requested for two important flood-control projects in metropolitan New Orleansone in South East Louisiana, the other, the West Bank and vicinity project.
Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La) said, "The White House budget reflects an Administration that has still not learned from its dysfunctional response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the levee breaks that followed." Senator David Vitter (R-La) criticized the 34% cut to the Corps' construction budget saying, "These sorts of cuts in the past are what led to cutting corners. And that led to catastrophic flooding in New Orleans." Congressman William Jefferson (D-La) blasted cuts to food and health insurance programs that benefit hurricane victims, and a 30% cut to Community Development Block Grants which are so crucial to housing rebuilding efforts. "The President proposes painful cuts to a wounded nation while protecting healthy insurance subsidies, making permanent costly tax cuts, and increasing funding to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan," he charged.
Former Powell Aide: 'I Participated in a Hoax'
'I participated in a hoax on the American people,' said Col. Larry Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Colin Powell when the latter was Secretary of State; Wilkerson was speaking during an interview on PBS's Now program, aired on Feb. 3. The hoax to which Wilkerson referred was Powell's infamous speech to the UN on Feb. 5, 2003, in which Powell claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In the interview, Wilkerson detailed how Dick Cheney leaned on the CIA to provide the conclusions he wanted, and the absurd 48-page script of the speech that was provided by Cheney's top aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, now facing criminal charges for his role in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak case.
Wilkerson noted that none of the dissent in the intelligence community ever reached him or Powelldissent questioning Cheney's conclusions about Iraq's WMD programs, with respect to either Curveball, the fake source in Germany, or Sheik al Libbi, the al-Qaeda member who was tortured into saying that Iraq had such programs.
Wilkerson concluded the interview with an attack on the Federalist Society, although he did not name it, in response to a question from interviewer David Brancaccio asking if he were worried that we may be headed down the path to dictatorship. "Oh, I think it's come to that," Wilkerson said, arguing that a few people, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Justice Department official John Yoo, have decided on a different reading of the Constitution than that which has prevailed for more than 200 years. Nonsensically, they claim Alexander Hamilton as their leading light. "They haven't even read Federalist Six," Wilkerson said, "where Alexander Hamilton lays down his markers about the dangers of a dictate-issuing chief executive.... This is an interpretation of the Constitution that is outlandish and clearly ahistorical."