- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001

Hastert's explanation
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert says it was his uncertainty about the Bush administration's stand on stem cell research, not his own uncertainty, that caused him not to sign a letter opposing federal funding of such research.
The Illinois Republican's colleagues in the House Republican leadership — Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, Majority Whip Tom DeLay, also of Texas, and Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma — all signed a strong letter to President Bush on the issue.
In an interview Saturday on CNN's "Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields," Mr. Hastert was asked why he did not sign it.
"Stem cell is tied into cloning. There's a lot of questions out there," the speaker said.
He added that he has asked Mr. Bush to have Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson to "come and talk to us and lay out what his plans are. I think they need to do that. And until they do that, I'm not going to sign a letter."
Co-host Robert Novak asked Mr. Hastert if he is undecided on the question.
"No, I've always opposed the whole issue of stem cell," the speaker said, apparently referring to the matter of using stem cells from embryos in medical research.
But Mr. Hastert hastened to point out how scientists believe stem cells could be used to treat, or possibly cure, diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes.
"You could do it with different types of cells, blood from placenta, those types of things," the speaker said.
"I just need to see what the Thompson plan or what the Bush plan is before I go out and sign any letters," Mr. Hastert said.

A winning issue?
Although Democrat Jim McGreevey holds a sizable lead over Republican Bret Schundler in New Jersey gubernatorial polls, "Democrats fear that Schundler, an effective communicator, has already latched onto the kind of popular 'micro issue' that plays to angry voters in low-turnout elections — namely, his bid to eliminate tollbooths on the Garden State Parkway," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
"McGreevey has responded coolly to the idea. Some Democrats are worried about that. They fear a local repeat of the 1997 Virginia race, when the Democratic candidate scoffed at [Republican James S.] Gilmore's proposal to kill the car tax — and wound up killing his own candidacy," reporter Dick Polman writes.
Political analyst Larry Sabato commented: "McGreevey is trying to be prudent. But the time to be prudent is when you're in office, not when you're running for office — unfortunately. Which is why, with these gubernatorial races, this is shaping up as a very interesting year."

Name game
Citizens Against Government Waste has named Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, its "Porker of the Month" for July.
The reason? CAGW points out that Mr. Thompson, on taking over an agency that has "massive waste and mismanagement," is holding a contest to rename the Health Care Financing Administration, which runs Medicare and Medicaid, because "it's hard to love something called HCFA."
CAGW says Mr. Thompson wins its porker title "for wasting valuable time, political capital, and public money on an effort reminiscent of the old Soviet approach to government reform."
The nonprofit, nonpartisan group dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in government says it recognizes that complaints about HCFA abound.
"But trust us, the complaints … do not focus on its moniker," CAGW said.
Instead, the organization said, complaints about HCFA focus on its "strict regulations and bureaucratic red tape," both of which "frustrate almost every individual or group with which it deals."
"Doctors and hospitals know HCFA creates too many forms to fill out, takes too long to reimburse claims, and is highly restrictive. … Last year alone, HCFA made about $12 billion in improper payments."
The anti-waste group argues it will cost "millions of dollars" to reprint all HCFA forms, stationery, booklets, information kits, etc. to reflect a name change.
"Whatever it costs, that money could have been spent better on health care for the needy," CAGW said.
Instead of a name change, HCFA "needs a complete overhaul," the group told Mr. Thompson.

Falling short
The Los Angeles Times on Friday scolded Rep. Gary A. Condit, the California Democrat caught up in the case of missing intern Chandra Levy, noting that airline flight attendant Anne Marie Smith says Mr. Condit urged her to deny their affair and avoid speaking to the FBI.
Mr. Condit has denied the latter charge, the newspaper observed in an editorial. "If he did, in fact, suggest that anyone dodge investigators' diligent search for a missing person, he is unfit for office," the newspaper said. "Even if that accusation proves incorrect, he has fallen short as a public official and as a person."
The newspaper added: "From the beginning Condit has had a moral duty to Levy, her frantic parents and his constituents to speak up. Instead, in trying to protect his reputation by hunkering down, he's probably destroyed it."

Kinder, gentler
"Supporters of the National Urban League are anxious to hear what President Bush plans to say during their annual convention, which begins July 28," UPI reports in its "Capital Comment" column.
"Bush has accepted their invitation to address their membership on August 1. The NUL, founded in 1910, is what some in both parties consider a kinder, gentler civil rights organization with the backbone, but not the perceived vitriolic rhetoric, of the NAACP. Of particular interest will be the panel discussion 'Is the Black Vote Up for Grabs?' which will feature Rep. J.C. Watts, Oklahoma Republican; Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore; and former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, who now serves as the national development chairman for the Democratic National Committee."

'Bad prosecution'
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert is unhappy about the plea bargain worked out by former FBI agent Robert P. Hanssen, who spied for the Russians. It will provide his family with his federal pension.
"With all respect for the Hanssen family, isn't this bad public policy when a convicted traitor gets a federal pension?" pundit Mark Shields asked Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, on CNN's "Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields" on Saturday.
"I think that's bad prosecution, and that's the deal that they made with the authorities. I think that's wrong-minded," Mr. Hastert said, adding: "I think that certainly doesn't serve justice in this country, and I think we ought to take a look at it."

A scary group
President Bush probably isn't quaking in his boots over threats by Greenpeace, but the environmental, anti-nuke group says he should be.
"President Bush has greatly underestimated world leaders and the general public's opposition to a missile defense system and will meet stiff opposition with each step he takes towards deploying Star Wars," Greenpeace said in a statement.
The organization said the president can expect such "stiff opposition" to this week's missile test, scheduled for July 14 at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, Calif.
Greenpeace did not disclose the nature of its planned protest. It only said its opposition will "heat up" at that point and that it will "vigorously challenge this week's test."

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