- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2002

Vice President Richard B. Cheney yesterday sidestepped hecklers and reasserted himself as the top economic spokesman for the Bush administration after months of silence overshadowed by a federal investigation of the oil company he once headed.
Saying he still has "great affection and respect" for Halliburton Co. and its officers, Mr. Cheney stated he would not publicly respond to the charges of accounting fraud being investigated at the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid any appearance of pressuring the independent agency.
"There are editorial writers all over America poised to put pen to paper and condemn me for exercising undue, improper influence if I say too much about it," he told a questioner at a San Francisco appearance before the Commonwealth Club of California.
Protesters disrupted Mr. Cheney's speech, yelling, "Cheney is a corporate crook. No war with Iraq." The vice president smiled as the protesters were escorted out of the room and said, "Thank you very much," wire services reported.
Mr. Cheney made a veiled threat against Iraq, saying "the United States will not look the other way" while Iraq develops weapons of mass destruction. He also sought to dispell speculation that he is a one-term vice president.
"If the president is willing and my wife approves and my doctors say it's OK, then I'd be happy to serve a second term," he said.
"The facts" about the Halliburton investigation, he added, can be found on the company's Web site, where it has denied any wrongdoing and said it is working with the SEC to answer questions about its booking of revenue from cost overruns on construction projects when Mr. Cheney was chief executive.
"The vast majority of men and women in the business community are honest and aboveboard," Mr. Cheney said in the speech, which laid out the administration's blueprint for the economy amid signs that the recovery is stalling.
The vice president said President Bush's tax cuts and other policies aimed at stimulating growth have been vindicated by a report released last week showing that the 2001 recession started just as Mr. Bush was taking office last year.
Mr. Cheney's own widely criticized comment in December 2000 that the economy might be "on the leading edge of a recession" also was vindicated by the report. Many of the administration's critics maintained through the summer of last year that the economy was not in recession or in need of any tax stimulus.
In reality, Mr. Cheney said, the $40 billion of tax rebates last summer came at the deepest point of the recession and were a major reason for the economy's quick revival on a rebound in consumer spending in the final quarter of the year.
"The Bush tax cut came just in time," he said, adding that "the worst period for the economy" occurred before the September 11 terrorist attacks, not after, as is widely believed.
Economic output shrank 0.6 percent, 1.6 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively, in the first three quarters of last year, according to the Commerce Department report.
"Together with the great flexibility of this economy and the extraordinary resilience of the American people, tax relief helped us to climb out of the recession and to weather the terrible financial effects of 9/11."
The recovery was sustained through the first half of this year partly as the result of Mr. Bush's tax-rate reductions, he said, and the economy remains "poised for sustained growth" as long as Congress and the administration keep supporting such pro-growth policies.
The administration is calling for additional tax cuts, such as the elimination of the "marriage penalty" and estate taxes, as well as legislation extending last year's tax cuts beyond 2011.
Mr. Cheney said recent steep declines in construction spending, which have fueled fears that the economy is weakening and could fall into recession again, may have been caused by Congress' failure to pass terrorism-insurance legislation.
"The fact is that billions of dollars in projects are on hold today because the developers can't obtain coverage against the risk of terrorism," he said. "This problem also affects the transportation industry."
The House passed a terrorism-insurance bill last year, but the legislation got bogged down in the Senate, where Democrats oppose limits on lawsuits by victims of terrorism who get insurance payouts. Mr. Cheney called the Senate lawsuit provision "a windfall to trial lawyers."


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