Thursday, October 13, 2005

The battle is on

Many of the same groups that organized the concerted effort to derail President Bush‘s Social Security plan have banded together to stop Republicans from cutting spending to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and at least 14 other groups, including and the AFL-CIO, pledged yesterday to “fight the Republican congressional leadership’s effort to make draconian cuts to vital public service programs and give new tax breaks to the wealthy, in the name of funding hurricane-relief efforts.”

The coalition, known as the Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities (ECAP), hopes to stymie spending cuts in much the same way some of its members helped block private accounts for Social Security, at least for the time being.

As part of the budget process this fall, Congress is expected to vote on $35 billion or more in proposed cuts to programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, with the goal of softening the blow of the $60 billion-plus it has spent so far on Katrina relief. Top Republicans also are pushing a tax-cut package.

Gore’s intentions

Former Vice President Al Gore said yesterday he had no intention of ever running for president again, but he said the United States would be “a different country” if he had won the 2000 election, launching into a scathing attack on the Bush administration.

“I have absolutely no plans and no expectations of ever being a candidate again,” Mr. Gore told reporters after giving a speech at an economic forum in Stockholm.

When asked how the United States would have been different if he had become president, though, he had harsh criticism for President Bush‘s policies, the Associated Press reports.

“We would not have invaded a country that didn’t attack us,” he said, referring to Iraq. “We would not have taken money from the working families and given it to the most wealthy families.

“We would not be trying to control and intimidate the news media. We would not be routinely torturing people,” Mr. Gore said. “We would be a different country.”

Conspiracy theory

Filmmaker Spike Lee thinks the federal government might have destroyed a levee to drive black people out of New Orleans while saving the white sections of the city after Hurricane Katrina. But it’s not clear he will push that notion in a documentary he will make for HBO.

Mr. Lee, in an interview Tuesday on CNN, said the documentary will be called “When the Levee Broke.”

When asked about the levee conspiracy theory, which apparently has gained credence among some New Orleans blacks, Mr. Lee said that “it’s not too far-fetched to think that, look, we got a bunch of poor black people here. We got to save these other neighborhoods. What we got to do, dump this in this ward, boom. I believe it.”

And when interviewer Daryn Kagan asked whether Mr. Lee really believed that theory, the director replied: “I don’t put anything past the United States government.”

But when asked whether he intended to prove that in his documentary, Mr. Lee said: “Well, no, no, no, no, no.”

However, later in the interview, Mr. Lee said: “And I think that it’s a shame what happened, and I don’t care how many times Mr. Bush goes to the Gulf or spends a night in a hotel, there’s still a lot of grief. And, you know, I don’t find it too far-fetched that they try to displace all the black people out of New Orleans.”

A sales job

Efforts to educate seniors about the new Medicare prescription-drug program are working, according to polling information released by a Republican firm.

The survey findings, by Dutko Research, were shared with House Republicans as they and the administration seek to get the word out about the new drug benefit.

The poll of 800 registered voters Sept. 26 through Oct. 2 found that 81 percent of seniors say they’ve received information in the mail or in television ads about the new drug program — up from 75 percent in August, 65 percent in July and 48 percent in June. And 56 percent of seniors know the Medicare drug benefit begins in early 2006.

The administration and some Republican lawmakers have been aggressively marketing the new voluntary drug benefit.

However, the poll also found that among seniors who don’t have drug coverage currently, only 36 percent say they will sign up for the new drug program, while 50 percent say no thanks.

Hey, big spenders

The two millionaires vying to be New Jersey’s next governor have used a combined $45 million of their personal fortunes for their campaigns, making it the most expensive gubernatorial race in state history.

Democrat Jon Corzine, a U.S. senator and the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, spent nearly $4 million of his own money during the primary race, and he was unopposed. For the general election, Mr. Corzine has spent $19.5 million of his own wealth, according to reports made public yesterday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Doug Forrester, the Republican co-owner of BeneCard Services Inc., a provider of prescription-benefit and vision-care programs, spent $11.2 million in his primary race against six opponents. For the general election, he has lent his campaign $10.5 million, the Associated Press reports.

No politics, please

The rock band U2 has expressed outrage that politicians, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, are using its concerts to fill campaign coffers.

“The U2 concerts are categorically not fundraisers for any politician. They are rock concerts for U2 fans,” the group’s publicist said.

Mrs. Clinton has invited 18 persons to join her Wednesday in a luxury suite at the MCI Center to see U2 play during their sold-out Vertigo tour, as long as they contribute $2,500 to the Democratic Party.

Luxury suites at the center cost $7,000 and offer a close-up view of the stage.

“We do a meet-and-greet with the senator, and then go in and listen to music,” said Ann Lewis, the former first lady’s spokeswoman.

Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, is holding a $1,000-a-head fundraiser at U2’s show in Philadelphia this weekend, Agence France-Presse reports.

Schroeder rips Bush

Outgoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has aimed a broadside at President Bush, saying Hurricane Katrina showed what happens when a government neglects its duty.

Mr. Schroeder made his comments in a speech to a trade union in Hanover, in which he warned of the dangers of eroding the welfare functions of the state, Agence France-Presse reports.

“I can think of a recent disaster that shows what happens when a country neglects its duties of state towards its people,” said Mr. Schroeder, who will soon cede his post to conservative rival Angela Merkel.

“My post as chancellor, which I still hold, does not allow me to name that country, but you all know that I am talking about America,” Mr. Schroeder said to laughter and applause.

• Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or

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