- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

Initiatives in President Bush's 2003 agenda are aimed at voters who have opposed him and at independent swing voters as he prepares for re-election next year, political and policy analysts said yesterday.

Much of it is tailored to appeal to minorities, particularly blacks, and includes a $10 billion foreign-assistance program to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa, mentoring programs to help children of imprisoned parents and a drug-rehabilitation plan that could be funded through the administration's faith-based initiative.

Some measures, especially the AIDS proposal revealed in the State of the Union address Tuesday, won strong support yesterday from several Democratic groups, including the Democratic Leadership Council, which called it "an abrupt reversal of the earlier administration's position."

"I'm for a crusade against global AIDS. I thought it was a grand stroke on his part," said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America's Future, a liberal lobbying group.

He, however, said that the outreach initiatives in Mr. Bush's "compassion agenda" were merely clever packaging to make the president appear less conservative.

"There is no doubt that they are trying to appeal to moderates, blacks and women with these compassionate conservative proposals. That's their goal, to appeal to swing voters, moderates, suburbanites, maybe even some urban single women who tend to be skeptical of the Bush administration," Mr. Hickey said.

Some of Mr. Bush's staunchest Republican supporters seconded that assessment.

"This was a true compassionate conservative speech. The environmental stuff, AIDS in Africa, prison mentoring, drug rehabilitation, those were all aimed in part at suburban women to show his compassionate side," Republican campaign consultant Scott Reed said yesterday.

Mr. Bush said he wants to begin a $1.2 billion research program to develop a pollution-free, hydrogen-powered automobile, a move seen as appeasing environmentalists, who have been among his severest critics.

He also is calling for a drug-prescription benefit program as part of a $400 billion overhaul of Medicare to widen choices and reduce costs. The elderly, whose turnout rate is the largest of any voting bloc in the country, are likely to benefit the most from this.

Mr. Bush would be mistaken if he believes that his compassionate initiatives will bring him more black votes next year, says a top analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a liberal black research foundation.

"That is not going to happen," said David Bositis, the chief pollster at the center. "The jobless rate has gone up for blacks. Their incomes have gone down. Even their rise in homeownership has slowed."

Mr. Bush's opposition to race-based preferences in the University of Michigan affirmative-action case before the Supreme Court also will play a part, he said. "That will override any of the initiatives he outlined yesterday among black voters."

Still, he concedes that "what Bush is proposing, the mentoring for children with a parent in prison and drug-abuse treatment, makes sense politically because he can work it into his faith-based initiative, which a lot of his supporters would like."

Mr. Bositis also voiced approval about the emphasis on drug rehabilitation. "It acknowledges a financial reality right now. Let's face it, drug treatment is a lot cheaper than prison."

Despite items geared toward strengthening his conservative base, such as tax cuts, private Social Security investment accounts and banning late-term abortions, some of Mr. Bush's supply-side supporters are not happy about several of the spending initiatives.

"A lot of liberals have been complaining that George W. Bush's presidency is Ronald Reagan's third term. And when it comes to tax policy and foreign policy, Bush is a supply-side, hawkish Reaganite," said Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, which campaigns for deeper tax cuts.

"But where Bush and Reagan substantially part company is when it comes to the role of government in solving societal problems. Bush has really shown himself over the last two years to be more of a big government Republican than someone who believes, as Reagan did, that government isn't the solution to our problems, it is the problem," Mr. Moore said. "This White House doesn't believe that approach to government can work."

Conservatives, however, are ecstatic about the size and breadth of Mr. Bush's $1.4 trillion tax cut and say that it is the equivalent of cutting spending by that amount. "In the long run, when we cut taxes, we constrain the politicians in terms of what they have to spend."

Analysts at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that focuses on the economic costs of environmental regulations, questioned Mr. Bush's proposal to spend $1.2 billion on developing a hydrogen-powered automobile.

"Politically it may be a smart move, rather than do what the environmentalists want, which is to heavily regulate the economy and regulate fossil fuels," said Paul Georgia, environmental policy analyst at the institute.

"It's technologically feasible to run a car on hydrogen, but it actually takes more energy than to run it on fossil fuels. It's a waste of money. Simply look at all the past federal energy research programs and we have not gotten our money's worth out of any of them. They have been one boondoggle after another," he said.

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