Jewish World Review August 22, 2001 / 3 Elul, 5761

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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Politics takes a summer holiday -- PRESIDENT BUSH is taking some political heat this month for getting away from the oppressive heat of the Nation's Capital, but you can't fault his timing. With Congress also out of town, it's duller around here than a congressional hearing on budget and economic projections.

The good legislators are back in their districts, and a few of them have been sneaking off on the usual overseas junkets, some legitimate and some questionable.

Senators Joe Biden (D-DE) and Fred Thompson (R-TN) have made a high-profile trip to Beijing and received good ink if little else on their talks with the top Chinese on missile defense and other matters.

Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, the Republican Whitewater scourge of Bill Clinton as chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, has also taken heat for making a side trip from a European fact-finding mission to visit his ailing wife in Germany, allegedly at taxpayer expense.

Most summers, there's some issue that keeps some burners of midnight oil in town, but this year there's little of that. Perhaps it reflects the laid-back style of our new president, whose reputation for no heavy lifting was underscored recently when he proclaimed that he had studied really, really hard to learn about stem cell research, and had uncharacteristically taken his time making a decision on it.

In the previous eight years, with Bill Clinton seemingly working hard nonstop, even when he was playing up at Martha's Vineyard or in the Hamptons with his cushy Democratic pals, it was more difficult for his subordinates to slack off. Bush, on the other hand, makes playing hooky easy.

Taking a breather at his home in Texas, and inviting with his example a more relaxed attitude on Capitol Hill over the summer, may very well be good politics in a country that endured such high-pressure politics and hi-jinks under the hyperactive Clinton. After Labor Day will be time enough to get back into the rat race. This attitude apparently has infected even the hottest reformers, like those bent on brushing aside House Speaker Dennis Hastert's procedural stall on campaign finance reform and enacting the long-delayed legislation in the fall.

When the speaker and his enforcer, Majority Whip Tom Delay, derailed the Shays-Meehan reform bill by offering a rule that promised to decimate it, the sponsors quickly got 205 signers on a petition to bypass the leadership and get a straight vote on the measure. That left the reformers only 13 signatures short of forcing the vote.

They announced a campaign to obtain them over the summer with a grass-roots effort in the districts of 17 Democrats and 31 Republicans who either had voted for or signed discharge petitions on campaign finance reform in previous years. But the summer doldrums apparently have stagnated these worthies as well, and little progress has been reported. In any event, actual signatures can only be added when the House is back in session.

Reformers Chris Shays (R-CT) and Marty Meehan (D-MA) are slated to be joined by the chief sponsors of the Senate version, John McCain (R-AZ) and Russell Feingold (D-WI), at a town meeting in Memphis on Sept. 7, with a goal of obtaining the required 218 signatures to force House consideration of the bill as early as the end of the month.

On two past occasions, the Republican speaker, Newt Gingrich in 1998 and Hastert in 1999, yielded on the floor vote when the petitions got close to 218 names. Hastert has said this time he will wait and see what happens, but there seems no doubt now that the reformers will get the 13 more votes they need.

By that time, the summer snooze should be over, with everybody who matters including President Bush back at their desks reinvigorated for the windup of the congressional session. Maybe the French have it right. Most of France takes the whole month of August off, and the country has managed to survive.

Comment on JWR contributor Jules Witcover's column by clicking here.

08/15/01: The resurfacing of AlGore
08/13/01: You can go home again
08/10/01: Governors' Conference drought
08/08/01: Governors defend their turf
08/06/01: New Bush muscle with congress
08/03/01: America's benign neglect
07/30/01: Where is the fear factor?
07/26/01: Dubya, Nancy Reagan and the Pope
07/23/01: Bush's congressional dilemma
07/19/01: Katharine Graham, giant
07/11/01: Finessing election reform
07/09/01: Listening to, and watching, Ashcroft
07/06/01: New comedian in the House (of Representatives)
06/27/01: Spinning Campaign Finance Reform's latest 'headway'
06/25/01: When Dubya says 'the check is in the mail,' you can believe him
06/22/01: The push on patients' rights
06/20/01: If you can't trust historians, how can you trust history?
06/18/01: World Refugee Day
06/13/01: Remembering 'Hubert'
06/11/01: Ventura faces government shutdown
06/06/01: McCain doth protest too much
06/04/01: Memo to the Bush daughters
05/30/01: Missing in action: Democratic outrage
05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
05/23/01: Lauding the Nixon pardon
05/21/01: Messin' with McCain
05/18/01: A great movie plot
05/16/01: The level of public sensibility these days
05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

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