Washington Week

Published: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 11:09 p.m.
WASHINGTON - Don't spend it till you see it when it comes to President Bush's $670 billion tax cut.
Best bet: - Forget the proposed elimination of dividend taxes, the plan's primary focus. Instead look for dividends to get treated like capital gains, taxed at 20 percent tops.
- Congress will go along with speeding up income-tax rate cuts already approved in the 2001 tax bill but won't fully accelerate cuts for the top 38.6 percent bracket.
- Lawmakers will increase the $600-a-child tax credit to $1,000.
Whatever happens, expect the White House to claim victory.
  • State budget woes are so bad that some members of Congress want to revive that hallmark of federalism established by Richard Nixon - revenue sharing.
    Shortfalls in state budgets could approach $90 billion, with much of the strain coming from Medicaid, which has surpassed Medicare as the biggest government health insurance program.
    A proposal offered last year called for $50 million in no-strings aid to the states; another plan pushed last week by a bipartisan group of senators would cough up an emergency $20 billion as part of an economic stimulus package.
  • Why didn't President Bush seek to accelerate elimination of the estate tax in his most recent economic package? Well, the idea is to stimulate the economy and urging people to die might not be a good political gambit.
    "It would not exactly be good tax policy to give people an incentive to die earlier," said Ari Fleischer, the president's press secretary. "So, therefore, estate taxes are typically not the type of changes you want to make in the tax code involving their effective date, if you know what I mean."
  • The U.S. Senate still has not shaken its image of insensitivity to civil rights despite Trent Lott's resignation as majority leader. A group called "Change The Name," organized by social activist Dick Gregory, is pushing to change the name of the Senate office building honoring the memory of Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia. The group notes that Russell was a white supremacist who blocked a number of anti-lynching bills while he was a senator from 1933 until his death in 1971.
    More than 4,700 Americans, including about 3,500 blacks, reportedly died at the hands of lynch mobs from the late 19th to mid-20th century, the group said.
  • Thirsty? Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe in Washington's Dupont Circle is now offering a beverage called the "Trent Lotte." The drink, named after the ex-Senate Republican leader who was booted for waxing nostalgic about segregation, comes with "separate but equal parts of coffee and milk" served in two containers.
  • The Raelians claims of cloned babies might be scientifically unproven but they still spur dedicated foes of cloning, even for research purposes, on Capitol Hill. Look for early House action on an anti-cloning bill this spring but another struggle to find common ground on the issue in the Senate.
  • The House is expected to vote soon on a measure that will permit women to breast-feed their children "at any location" in a federal building or on federal property - assuming, of course, the women are authorized to be there in the first place.
  • Taking care of his fellow docs, Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee plans to move legislation to cap malpractice awards to the top of the Senate agenda. Frist is hearing complaints about rising malpractice insurance rates in his home state and recently from the trauma surgeons who took care of the highway accident victims Frist aided on New Year's Day in Broward County, Fla.
  • States are working hard to recruit and keep teachers, but few are targeting the areas that need them the most, according to a new report by Education Week. Among the report's findings, 22 percent of secondary school students take at least one class with a teacher who did not even minor in the subject he or she teaches. In high-poverty secondary schools, 32 percent of students take a class with a teacher who lacks even a minor in the subject.
  • One part of Afghanistan's economy has made a remarkable comeback since the U.S. freed the country of its Taliban yoke, but the White House is none too happy about it. Seems the 2002 opium production total will be about 3,700 tons - an astronomic growth from the 185 tons produced in 2000. The bumper poppy crop last year translates into about $1.2 billion in revenue for the poor nation's farmers. The Justice Department will shell out $17 million this year for "Operation Containment," its effort to disrupt the heroin trade in Afghanistan.
  • The odds of Congress finally tackling the issue of e-mail spam are brightening with a survey establishing that 96 percent of Americans don't like the intrusive messages and that three-quarters want lawmakers to do something about it. The Direct Marketing Association, the organization responsible for companies spamming you, says it's willing to go along with a new national bill crackdown so long as the legislation overwrites state laws.
    The centerpiece of any new regulation would be a requirement that companies sending unsolicited e-mail have workable provisions on the bottom allowing you to respond saying you want to get off of their lists.
  • It might be coincidence, but now that Al Gore is no longer a 2004 contender, NASA is taking one of his pet projects out of mothballs.
    Officials insist new discussions of putting the $100-million Earth observing satellite aboard a space shuttle mission in late 2004 is purely coincidental in timing, made possible simply because construction of the space station will be winding down by then, allowing room for new cargo.
    The satellite, called Triana, has been gathering dust in a NASA warehouse in Maryland since 2001, when Republicans in Congress grounded it until independent experts reviewed its scientific worth. By the time they did, there was no room on the shuttle.
  • Happy Oatmeal Month - all month! Long a favorite, especially on cold mornings, oatmeal long ago branched out from plain to a variety of tastes and colors, including swirls of your choice. The average American eats four pounds of oatmeal a year, Census figures show.
    The discovery that oats can lower the risk of heart disease has helped keep this breakfast food popular. It is the fourth most produced cereal crop, following wheat, rice and corn.
  • For those keeping score on the Democratic presidential campaign:
    Vermont Gov. Howard Dean - in and campaigning full time; Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut - in officially as early as next week; Former Vice President Al Gore - out; Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts - in; Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota - out; Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri - in; Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina - in.
    Sen. Bob Graham of Florida is talking with supporters, as is former Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, contemplating the comeback trail. And if they're all moving, can Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware be far behind?
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