Torpedoing Taxes

Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, on Thursday personally torpedoed Speaker Dennis Hastert’s attempt to get a tax cut extension bill through the House before the Easter recess began this weekend.

Hastert had surprised everybody Wednesday night by announcing plans to rush through House passage of a bill extending dividend and capital gains tax relief. To accomplish that, however, a Senate-House conference had to formally approve a compromise that had been agreed to in principle.

That was considered nearly certain because all that was needed was for Grassley to walk across the Capitol to sign the conference report. But Grassley has been feuding with his House counterpart, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, and he refused to advance the tax bill.

The recurrent reports in high levels of the government that John Snow will step down as secretary of the Treasury have resumed since the resignation of Andrew Card as White House chief of staff.

Most widely named as Snow’s possible successors are two senior officials in the Bush administration: U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick. Portman resigned from Congress as an Ohio representative last year to replace Zoellick in the trade post.

Bush supporters in the financial community have urged the president to name someone from the private sector who is well known on Wall Street, but no such name has surfaced.

Writer Midge Decter, current president of The Philadelphia Society, at the conservative organization’s national meeting the weekend of March 31-April 2, leveled a sharp attack on Karen Hughes, under secretary of state for diplomacy.

"She is a disaster," said Decter in describing President Bush’s longtime close adviser. Hughes has drawn criticism for comments she made in Muslim countries on her "listening tour" — especially in Egypt.

Hughes commended Sheik Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, head of Al-Azhar University, when she visited Cairo last September. She praised Tantawi’s "courage" for the university’s condemnation of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The Egyptian educator also has called for what he says is a non-violent Islamic jihad against the U.S. intervention in Iraq.

A graphic new television ad by the conservative Free Enterprise Fund is targeting the two Democratic senators from Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, to support repeal of the estate tax when it comes up for a vote next month.

The ad features live footage of vultures eating away at a dead carcass — symbolically the government seizing the assets of the dead. It superimposes the heads of pro-estate tax Democratic senators — Edward M. Kennedy, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Harry Reid — on the bodies of vultures. It then urges Lincoln and Pryor not to join the vultures.

The American Family Business Institute also will be targeting the Arkansas senators with new ads. Lincoln and Pryor are listed as probable but not certain for repeal in what is expected to be a close vote.

The costly rail project near Gulfport, Miss., that has been sought locally for decades has been slipped into the emergency appropriations bill as part of Hurricane Katrina reconstruction.

Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, added $700 million on grounds that "the tracks were extensively damaged during Hurricane Katrina." Actually, the new project would destroy a newly repaired section of the railroad. The Mississippi Governor’s Commission, in its final report to Gov. Haley Barbour last December, said the Gulfport railroad plan "is no longer seen as practical."

The emergency appropriations bill and what is being called the railroad to nowhere are expected to come to the Senate floor the week of April 24, after the lawmakers return from their Easter recess.