- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bush and DeLay

President Bush says he hopes indicted Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, will return to being majority leader.

“I don’t know whether I can expect that. I hope that he will, ‘cause I like him, and plus, when he’s over there, we get our votes through the House,” Mr. Bush said yesterday in an interview with Brit Hume of the Fox News Channel.

“We had a remarkable success of legislative victories, remarkable string of legislative victories. We cut the taxes, which has yielded strong economic growth and vitality. We had an energy bill that began to put America on its way to independence. I say ‘began’ because there’s a lot more work to be done there,” Mr. Bush said.

“We’ve had good legal reforms. We had strong support for our troops in combat. We’ve had a good record. We reformed Medicare,” he said. “There’s a string of successes, and I give Tom a lot of credit for that. The speaker gets credit, but Tom gets a lot of credit, too.”

Mr. Bush said he thinks Mr. DeLay is not guilty of the charges against him. The former majority leader is accused of violating Texas campaign-finance laws.

Magnet for trouble

The Washington state Democratic Party is under fire for posting an item on its Web site that parodies the popular Christian fish symbol commonly seen on the backs of cars, the Seattle Times reports.

The item — a magnetic version of the fish, emblazoned with flames and the word “Hypocrite” alongside a cross — appeared last week on the Democrats’ Web site. It was displayed along with other political-message magnets, bumper stickers and buttons that the party sells.

State Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said he first found out about the hypocrite-fish posting Friday when someone from KIRO radio called to ask him to go on the air to give an explanation.

“The moment I became aware of it, I insisted it be taken down,” Mr. Berendt said Tuesday. “I’m sorry if anyone was offended. It’s embarrassing.”

Mr. Berendt said the item had not been “properly vetted” and was on the Web site for less than 48 hours. He said the party didn’t even have any of the magnets in stock.

“We didn’t sell any of them, and we’re not going to,” he said.

The fish magnet is copyrighted by a Mount Vernon, Wash., company called Reefer Magnets. The company mostly sells magnets with pro-marijuana messages such as “Hemp is Patriotic” and “Jesus is coming, roll another joint.”

Mr. Berendt said he wasn’t sure what the fish symbol was supposed to mean, but said he thought it was aimed at “people who claim to be pro-life, but are for the death penalty.”

Meeting disrupted

Police officers were called to a meeting of the Michigan elections board yesterday after a student protest interrupted a vote that could place a ban on some racial-preference programs on the state’s November 2006 ballot.

As the Board of State Canvassers prepared to vote, high school students chanted, “They say Jim Crow, we say ‘hell, no’,” and moved toward the front of the room, knocking over an empty table where witnesses give testimony.

No one was arrested or told to leave the meeting, which drew more than 200 high school students to Lansing from the Detroit area. The board temporarily adjourned, planning to resume later in the afternoon, the Associated Press reported.

“We’ll just wait a minute to see if we can take up the board’s business,” said canvasser Katherine DeGrow, a Republican.

The ballot proposal would ban race and gender preferences in government hiring and university admissions.

The four-person canvassers board, which has two Democrats and two Republicans, deadlocked over the summer on whether to approve the petitions, leading the group that gathered the signatures to go to court.

Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals repeated an order that the elections board put the proposal on the November ballot.

Milking taxpayers

“Kudos to House Speaker Dennis Hastert for insisting that the Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn be designated, once again, the Capitol Christmas Tree. Political correctness had worked to re-dub it a ‘Holiday Tree’ in recent years. Hastert’s edict that Congress simply recognize the obvious by using the term ‘Christmas tree’ was a welcome moment of clarity and common sense that is, alas, all too rare on Capitol Hill,” Dave Juday writes at the Weekly Standard Web site (www.weeklystandard.com).

“The same can’t be said for another recent Hastert pronouncement, however. Late last month, Hastert penned a letter that stated ‘when the House and Senate go to conference on their respective versions of the deficit-reduction legislation, I will instruct conferees to secure an extension of a MILC program’ — referring to the Milk Income Loss Contract program, a $1 billion dairy production subsidy program. That’s right; the otherwise plain-spoken speaker advocated $1 billion in needless new federal spending be included in the so-called ‘deficit-reduction legislation,’” Mr. Juday said.

“If ever there was a symptom of Congress’ lack of fiscal discipline, the current MILC debate is it. Authorized by the 2002 omnibus farm bill, MILC originally was budgeted for $1.3 billion, yet it ran up a tab of more than $2 billion. This year’s Senate reconciliation bill adds $1 billion in new spending over the next two years for a new and unimproved MILC program. What is more disturbing is that MILC, from the very beginning, was conceived to be only a temporary payment program. It expired, as planned, on Sept. 30, the last day of the 2005 fiscal year. Even though the House passed a budget package which wisely let MILC rest in peace, Hastert now wants it resurrected.

“Why?” Mr. Juday asks. “Because Hastert thinks it might help Wisconsin Rep. Mark Green in his 2006 run for governor.”

Easing the rules

The White House is issuing a new policy easing public access to government information in response to complaints by news organizations that too much is withheld under the landmark disclosure law.

President Bush was expected to sign an executive order yesterday to improve public disclosure under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

The policy change requires each federal agency to designate a senior official as the chief FOIA officer. That person must take a close look at the agency’s FOIA programs and come up with a plan to improve them. The agencies are directed to make their FOIA processes “citizen-centered and goal-oriented,” Mr. McClellan said.

“What this executive order will do is improve the disclosure of information to the general public,” he said. “The Freedom of Information Act has been an important way for people to obtain information about their government.”

But it was not clear whether Mr. Bush’s order would reverse a 4-year-old directive from then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, issued shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, that restricted access to information.

More than 4 million FOIA requests were made to the federal government last year by the public and the press. Many requests drag on for years without resolution.

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

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