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Western Press Review: Bush Address Attracts U.S. Commentary

Prague, 28 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush's first speech to Congress commands commentary today from a number of U.S. newspapers. Here's a sampling:


The Washington Post focuses in an editorial on the president's plans for tax cuts amounting to more that $1.6 trillion and says they will not work. The newspaper says: "Mr. Bush's budget plan will not survive for long in the form he outlined last night -- which means, in turn, that hard work lies ahead for both Congress and the president. Congress must look for a formula that will allow some tax relief and new spending without risking the budgetary stability that was so painfully and relatively recently restored, after 15 years of massive deficits. For his part, Mr. Bush will have to figure out which parts of his program can be subject to compromise. That," the paper says, "will mean making some of the choices that last night's speech deferred."


The New York Times' editorial also opposes the scope of the tax-cut proposal, appealing to both Bush and the Congress to develop a sounder approach. The Times says: "Even nonpartisan experts recognize [that] his [proposed] cut is actually closer to $2.600 trillion once allowances are made for its retroactivity, lost debt-service savings and Congress's determination to change other tax laws to make Mr. Bush's package fully effective."

The newspaper concludes: "In the end, [the speech] was a stylistically impressive but substantively frustrating performance. [The president] was right to remind legislators that 'bipartisanship is more than minding our manners, it is doing our duty.' In that spirit, Congress should push Mr. Bush toward a better-proportioned budget that would allow for prudent tax relief for middle-income Americans, paying down the debt, modernizing the military, shoring up Social Security and Medicare and financing schools and prescription drug benefits. Working together toward that goal," the paper adds, "he and Congress could then reach the truly 'reasonable and responsible' approach to budgeting that he spoke of last night."


In a commentary for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Ramesh Ponnuru, an editor at the conservative U.S. weekly National Review, also frowns on the Bush tax-cut proposal. But where others decry it as too large, Ponnuru says it is too small. The newspaper runs his commentary under the headline, "What's Wrong with a Tax Cut Feeding Frenzy?" That's a reference to the voracious maelstrom whipped up by sharks when they are thrown large amounts of bait.

Ponnuru continues: "An occasional bidding war on taxes, in other words, is a useful corrective to the bidding wars on spending that are otherwise our regular fare. Liberals have a charming, and helpful, habit of signaling which policies they fear most: They label them irresponsible." He concludes: "Until a few weeks ago, Democrats were filled with alarm at the possibility of an irresponsible tax-cut feeding frenzy. Indeed, they were rather frenzied themselves. But now that Mr. Bush has disavowed any such frenzy, they're not exactly giving him points for his thoughtfulness and responsibility. The lesson he should draw: When it comes to his tax cut, Mr. Bush should be pro-growth."


The Boston Globe's Thomas Oliphant also criticizes the Bush tax plan in a commentary, not only for excessiveness but also for obfuscation. Oliphant says that former presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton similarly backed major tax cuts but, he says, they also included proposals for dealing with central political issues of their time. Not so this president, Oliphant writes.

The commentator says of President Bush: "The key to his domestic policy, it turns out, is not what he is sticking his neck out for and proposing. The key, it turns out, is something with the inspiring title of 'reserve fund' -- a fictitious parking place for a gigantic pot of money that represents decisions and choices this rookie president is unwilling to make on his own."

Oliphant comments: "Clinton faced the music and proposed a full program to put a $5 billion dent in the then-hemorrhaging budget. Reagan also put a detailed menu of budget cuts on the table to go with his tax reductions. The gap he left was then ratified by the Democrats in Congress to set the nation on its disastrous debt binge."

Oliphant concludes: "Bush's abdication asks Congress to do the real work for him. An early guess is that conservatives are going to be very angry with the result."

From European newspapers, on other topics:


Britain's Times today labels as "an intolerable Taliban outrage" a decree by Afghanistan's ruling militia to destroy ancient Buddhist statues -- including one cliff carving that is nearly 2,000 years old. The paper says: "This insane order was announced on the same day that a diplomatic delegation, in Kabul to see what could be done to trace objects looted from the [Kabul] museum, was told by the Afghan Foreign Ministry to expect a new decree on cultural preservation. Since this indicates internal divisions on the subject, second thoughts are not inconceivable. But if protest fails, then whatever salvage is possible, however unorthodox the methods, must be attempted. Smuggling in cultural property should never normally be countenanced." it concludes. "But if the alternative is a heap of rubble, it must be better to save what can be saved even if private collectors, not museums, benefit."


Writing in Die Welt, Katja Ridderbusch says that deposed Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic -- wanted by the UN's International Criminal Tribune for the former Yugoslavia for trial on war crimes charges -- may find himself jailed by his countrymen instead for having illegally acquired a house in a Belgrade suburb.

She writes: "No one will be untouchable, Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said after the arrest of former secret service head Rade Markovic, and many sources in Belgrade believe ex-dictator Milosevic himself will be Batic's next major arrest."

She continues: "The road along which the country is now advancing, the radical road towards the West, the road towards progress and openness, had its origin in the air battle of NATO against Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, the war whose meaning is being cast into doubt more and more and by various sides today." The commentator concludes: "The participants in that war are being pilloried morally -- the heads of state and the ministers of NATO member states, the military who planned and carried out the missions. But the fact is that it was Operation Allied Force that finally broke the Milosevic system and thus the dictator's might over the entire Balkan region so that he ultimately fell from his pedestal, like a foul apple from a limb."


Also in Die Welt today, commentator Thomas Delekat writes, with triumphant irony, that a Swiss firm, after arduous study, has affirmed what Germans long have known. Delekat says: "It has taken a while this labor of love but now, at long last, it is over. The task which consumed the collective worldwide energies of all 13,000 employees of the international consultancy firm William M. Mercer is at an end. They have proven once and for all that Nuremberg, for example, is more pleasant than New York."

"Is there any doubting this fact?" Delekat asks. "Does it evoke perhaps a trace of bemusement, a hint of caution for the feelings of the downcast citizens of the vanquished competition? Humbug, all stuff and nonsense! Any firm which goes to the trouble to research 215 cities in 37 countries armed with questionnaires as long as your arm does not make mistakes."