- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

Strange bedfellows

At a hotel in the suburbs of Washington Sunday, conservative leaders Grover Norquist and David Keene joined forces with some of the most bitter and determined foes of the Bush White House to denounce the administration’s main law-enforcement tool in the war on terrorism — the USA Patriot Act, Byron York writes at National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com).

“Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, and Keene, of the American Conservative Union, joined actor Alec Baldwin and People for the American Way President Ralph Neas as part of a conference called ‘Grassroots America Defends the Bill of Rights,’” Mr. York said. …

“Among those participating were representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom (the organization once headed by Sami al-Arian, the Florida professor facing terrorism-related charges), the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Muslim American Society (its representative, Mahdi Bray, played a prominent role in International ANSWER’s antiwar protests in Washington), and the National Lawyers’ Guild, and others.

“Much of the support for the conference came from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has conducted a long campaign against the Patriot Act. The panel on which Baldwin, Neas, Norquist and Keene appeared was sponsored by People for the American Way. Attendees were given a copy of the group’s new report, ‘Two Years After 9/11: Ashcroft’s Assault on the Constitution.’ …

“At times, the panel discussion had the air of a love fest as the audience, which appeared to be dominated by anti-Bush activists, applauded Norquist’s and Keene’s criticisms of the act and the legislators who approved it. At times, both Norquist and Keene raised legitimate questions about the act, but neither man challenged what appeared to be substantial mischaracterizations of the act’s provisions coming from the other side.

“For example, on more than one occasion, panelists on the left repeated charges that the act allows federal law enforcement to seize personal records without judicial supervision and without having to report to Congress.”

Drop dead

“Eight years after NPR’s Nina Totenberg, on ‘Inside Washington,’ wished death upon Sen. Jesse Helms (‘If there is retributive justice, he’ll get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it’), on the same show over the weekend she seemingly desired to hasten the death of Army [Lt.] Gen. Jerry Boykin for having supposedly expressed the view that the war on terrorism ‘is a Christian crusade against Muslims,’” the Media Research Center’s Brent Baker reports at www.mediaresearch.org.

“Totenberg hatefully advocated: ‘I hope he’s not long for this world.’

“When the other panelists were taken aback by her wish (‘You putting a hit out on this guy or what?’ and, ‘What is this, the Sopranos?’), she quickly backtracked: ‘In his job, in his job, in his job, please, please, in his job.’”

Medicare battle

Negotiators crafting a final Medicare prescription drug bill reached a general consensus yesterday to provide seniors with a government-run prescription drug benefit, if two or more private drug plans aren’t available. This provision is a key demand of Democrats.

Lead Senate negotiator Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said there is “consensus” to include a federally guaranteed “fallback” drug benefit, and this is “very significant for Democratic support” of the final bill.

Both House and Senate bills would provide seniors with prescription-drug benefits either through private, drug-only plans for those who stay in traditional Medicare, or through a new option that would use private health groups to deliver comprehensive health coverage.

The Senate bill provided a federally guaranteed fallback drug plan to seniors who stay in Medicare, if private plans aren’t available.

Mr. Grassley stressed that the consensus is a compromise between House and Senate positions, and not a House “cave in” to the Senate.

But negotiators still have not resolved the issue that will be key for House Republicans — whether to require traditional Medicare to compete directly against private plans starting in 2010. House conservatives demand this provision be in the final bill. Negotiators discussed the issue yesterday, but made no final decision.

Barbara’s world

Barbara Bush, former first lady and mother of President Bush, described Democrats trying to unseat her son in the White House as a “sorry group” of politicians.

“So far, they are a pretty sorry group if you want to know my opinion,” Mrs. Bush said in an interview aired yesterday on NBC’s “Today” show, when asked about the Democratic lineup for the 2004 presidential election.

“This is the world according to Barbara Bush, not George, not George H.W., not anybody,” she added.

Her husband also had some harsh words for the Democratic contenders whom he accused of using “vicious rhetoric,” Reuters reports.

“The one who makes the most outrageous charges against the president gets his 20 seconds on the evening news. Hey, I did not ride in here on a watermelon cart. I know how it works,” the former president said.

Fiercely proud of their son’s achievements, Mr. Bush said his wife treated the president like any other member of the family, recently telling him after a run to get his feet off the table in their bedroom.

However, Mrs. Bush said the current president frequently declines to do what she says. “He still doesn’t take my advice, that dirty dog.”

Edwards’ boast

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards argued yesterday that his health care plan would cover more children than any of the proposals offered by his rivals.

Speaking at a New Hampshire forum on children’s issues, Mr. Edwards sought to distinguish himself from his primary foes in a state where recent polls show him in single digits compared with front-runner Howard Dean and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Associated Press reports.

Mr. Edwards’ $53 billion-a-year plan would require infants to be enrolled at birth in either government health care programs or private insurance. People up to age 21 would be required to sign up when they visit doctors’ offices or start school.

“When I say every child, I mean every single child,” the senator from North Carolina said.

“Governor Dean has done good work, but there are still 5,000 children without health care in the state of Vermont,” Mr. Edwards said.

The Edwards campaign distributed a statement accusing Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, Mr. Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut of misleading voters about how many children would be covered under their plans.

The tax issue

“Taxes are playing a significant role in the three governor’s races that will be decided next month in Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana,” John Fund writes at www.OpinionJournal.com.

“In all three, Republican candidates have taken the no-taxes pledge that’s circulated by Americans for Tax Reform. All three of their Democratic opponents have declined to take the pledge and have been criticized for it. If Republicans win at least two of the three races, they will not only build momentum for the 2004 presidential election but prove the value of the tax issue in a winning electoral coalition.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com

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