TREASURY THIS MOMENT
When Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill sat down with a small group of reporters about six months into the Bush Administration, he laid down an ambitious set of goals for Treasury. Then, he said he and the White House were committed to getting tax fairness and simplification legislation passed, as well as some Social Security reform.
This was all before 9/11 and the ongoing sputtering economy pulled the wheels off a legislative locomotive that appeared to be gaining steam with the success of the Bush administration's tax cuts. Yet senior Republicans on Capitol Hill were surprised yesterday to read in local papers O'Neill's comments that he was going to return to Washington in the fall and press hard for Social Security reform.
"Where did that come from?" asks one GOP Senate leadership staffer. "Maybe he didn't notice, but that isn't something any of us are interested in touching two months before an election."
O'Neill's comments came as he joined the president at his Waco business/economic summit, and before the T-man embarks on a swing through economically struggling parts of the country. In what is viewed as a PR push, O'Neill is expected to spend a lot of time in the next few weeks meeting with American workers, small business people and executives, touting America's economic potential and bright future. From there, O'Neill said he wants to tackle some form of Social Security reform.
"We'll listen, we'll let him testify all he wants, but it just isn't realistic that we'd get knee deep into a mess like Social Security," said the Senate staffer.
That said, after spending several weeks among constituents, lawmakers could return to Washington with a sense of what voters will expect from them leading into November elections. But even then, everyone agrees the kind of broad-based reform the Bush White House has called for Social Security would be almost impossible to accomplish in what amounts to a six-week window of opportunity.
Don't expect any sudden changes in the leadership of the National Rifle Association now that Charlton Heston has announced he is exhibiting Alzheimer-like symptoms. The NRA was careful to orchestrate the announcement of his condition, and has already announced there are no plans for him to step aside before his term ends.
And according to some board members, the group feels that this is a critical period for the organization. "We're coming off some real successes," says one NRA board member. "It's been a good run. I don't think we want to do anything to undercut what we've been able to accomplish."
The latest victory was the NRA late push on behalf of Michigan Rep. John Dingell, which is partially credited with helping the Democrat win his primary challenge against anti-gun-rights Rep. Lynn Rivers.
Already the name of actor Tom Selleck has been tossed about as a possible replacement for Heston. Selleck is a lifetime member of the NRA and famously took on lesbian talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell in debating gun-ownership issues.
Unlike Heston, though, Selleck has distanced himself from politics in recent years, and most likely would not be able to provide the NRA with the full-time attention that Heston has given the group.
A darkhorse possibility? Well-known conservative activist Grover Norquist, who has sat on the NRA board for several years. "He's media savvy, knows our issues and really pushes them," says an NRA lobbyist, who knows Norquist. "But he probably wouldn't want to do it, given all of the different hats he wears."
LAST STOP, ATLANTA
In one of the few congressional districts where his support would be welcome, Jesse Jackson preached in Atlanta's Ben Hill Methodist Church and from the pulpit pushed the candidacy of Rep. Cynthia McKinney. Where many of her colleagues in Congress find her to be rather extremist in her views (recall she called for an investigation into whether or not President Bush knew in advance of the 9/11 attacks and let them happen so his family friends could make a profit), Jackson told reporters and an audience outside of the church that McKinney was a "cutting edge politician."
Ever since reports of extramarital dalliances and possible financial shenanigans in his Rainbow Coalitions and Operation PUSH offices, Jackson has been on the outs with a Democratic Party that once embraced his support for its candidates, especially African Americans. "He's not on the top of our list of people to send out campaigning," says a DNC advance staffer. "There aren't many places we could send him where there wouldn't be controversy. He'd just take attention away from the candidate. In the case of McKinney, that could work to her advantage."
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