UPI's Capital Comment for March 20, 2003

March 20, 2003 at 12:26 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 20 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Gas tax pains...

The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, a non-partisan watchdog group concerned about federal spending, is going on the offensive against congressional leaders of an effort to hike the federal tax on gasoline.

The group is "chiding" House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Ala., and ranking member James Oberstar, D-Minn., for proposing a "12-cent-per-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax to take effect over the next six years." The purpose of the tax increase, the group says, would be to offset the expense of the pork-laden transportation bill expected later this year.

"Increasing the gas tax by any amount from its current level is simply outrageous," CCAGW President Tom Schatz said. "The tax-guzzling Transportation Committee is threatening any possibility of a balanced budget in the next decade. With war in Iraq, a fiscal 2003 budget deficit of more than $250 billion before accounting for the costs of the war, and increased expenses for homeland security, there is no room for massive increases in any tax. Only the highest national priorities should be funded right now."

If the proposed increase is approved, CCAGW says, the federal gas tax will have risen 234 percent since 1987, when it stood at 9.1 cents per gallon. In 1990, it was increased by 65 percent to 14.1 cents per gallon. It now stands at 18.4 cents after its last increase in 1997. The Young/Oberstar proposal would bring the tax to 30.4 cents by 2009.

"Congress should find a creative method to fund the transportation bill or simply reduce its size, rather than relying on the easy solution of raising taxes," Schatz says. "They can start by prohibiting any pork from being included in the final bill."

Support for Nussle, Toomey budget plans...

Calling it "essential that House Republicans and pro-growth Democrats enact a budget resolution that allows full funding for the entire economic growth tax cut," economist Stephen Moore, head of the politically influential Club for Growth, has written to members of Congress asking them to support budget resolutions drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, and Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

The Nussle and Toomey resolutions "offer an opportunity for congressional Republicans to re-establish their fiscal conservative, pro-growth credentials. Over the past two years, federal spending has grown at twice as fast a pace as it did under Bill Clinton," Moore says.

The Nussle approach is, Moore says, "acceptable because it makes room for the president's tax cuts." However, he says, the members of the Club for Growth are "far more enthusiastic about the Republican Study Committee alternative" on which Toomey led the drafting.

"That budget would cut taxes even further and put a tighter leash on out-of-control federal expenditures. That budget plan leaves room for pro-investment reforms including expanded IRAs and a capital gains tax cut," Moore writes.

"Those in Congress who support free-market economic growth policies should support the Toomey budget and the Nussle budget. We will be watching," he warns.

Does Bob Dylan know about this...

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., is one of many encouraging the U.S. Congress to go on record in opposition to stoning, calling it a gross violation of human rights. House Resolution 26, which Royce co-sponsored, condemns the practice. In a statement, he described the process. "When someone is put to death by stoning, they are guaranteed a slow, painful and cruel death. Stones are carefully chosen, so they are large enough to cause maximum pain, but not so large as to kill the condemned immediately. Stoning brings out the worst in human nature," he said, going on to cite some disturbing developments.

"In Nigeria, 12 of the country's 36 states have put sharia criminal law into effect in recent years, displacing Nigeria's secular laws. The recent Nigerian case of Amina Lawal, a young woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, has brought international attention to sharia-mandated stoning," he said, adding: "Nigeria is only one country of concern."

"It was only after Sept. 11 (2001) that the American public began to learn about the brutal living conditions for women under the Taliban -- including being subject to public stonings," he says.

"Afghanistan remains a fragile state. Many parts of Afghanistan are struggling with the questions of how to govern. This resolution is our message that stoning should have no role in today's Afghanistan, or anywhere in today's age."

Personnel notes...

Capitol Hill veteran Rob Nichols will be handling the media for new Treasury Secretary John Snow. Nichols, a highly regarded GOP communicator, has worked for the Washington state Republican Party and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, and he was a top aide to U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash. There had been some rumors that Nichols was being pushed to run for a congressional seat in 2004 but his new job, assistant secretary of the Treasury for public affairs, likely precludes that. He replaces Michelle Davis, who left Treasury for a post at Fannie Mae ... Diane Steed, who headed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1983 to 1989, has been tapped to head the American Highway Users Alliance. Steed joins the association after a successful tenure as head of the Coalition for Vehicle Choice ... Michael Risken, formerly a lobbyist for communications equipment manufacturer Harris Corp., is the new vice president for national affairs at National Public Radio. Risken is a former aide to Michigan Republicans Guy Vander Jagt and Carl Purcell.

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