Answering to No One By Walter F. Mondale
Answering to No One
By Walter F. Mondale
Sunday, July 29, 2007; B07
The Post's recent series on Dick Cheney's vice presidency certainly got my attention. Having held that office myself over a quarter-century ago, I have more than a passing interest in its evolution from the backwater of American politics to the second most powerful position in our government. Almost all of that evolution, under presidents and vice presidents of both parties, has been positive -- until now. Under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, it has gone seriously off track.
The Founders created the vice presidency as a constitutional afterthought, solely to provide a president-in-reserve should the need arise. The only duty they specified was that the vice president should preside over the Senate. The office languished in obscurity and irrelevance for more than 150 years until Richard Nixon saw it as a platform from which to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1960. That worked, and the office has been an effective launching pad for aspiring candidates since.
But it wasn't until Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency that the vice presidency took on a substantive role. Carter saw the office as an underused asset and set out to make the most of it. He gave me an office in the West Wing, unimpeded access to him and to the flow of information, and specific assignments at home and abroad. He asked me, as the only other nationally elected official, to be his adviser and partner on a range of issues.
Our relationship depended on trust, mutual respect and an acknowledgement that there was only one agenda to be served -- the president's. Every Monday the two of us met privately for lunch; we could, and did, talk candidly about virtually anything. By the end of four years we had completed the "executivization" of the vice presidency, ending two centuries of confusion, derision and irrelevance surrounding the office.
Subsequent administrations followed this pattern. George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle and Al Gore built their vice presidencies after this model, allowing for their different interests, experiences and capabilities as well as the needs of the presidents they served.
This all changed in 2001, and especially after Sept. 11, when Cheney set out to create a largely independent power center in the office of the vice president. His was an unprecedented attempt not only to shape administration policy but, alarmingly, to limit the policy options sent to the president. It is essential that a president know all the relevant facts and viable options before making decisions, yet Cheney has discarded the "honest broker" role he played as President Gerald Ford's chief of staff.
Through his vast government experience, through the friends he had been able to place in key positions and through his considerable political skills, he has been increasingly able to determine the answers to questions put to the president -- because he has been able to determine the questions. It was Cheney who persuaded President Bush to sign an order that denied access to any court by foreign terrorism suspects and Cheney who determined that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to enemy combatants captured in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Rather than subject his views to an established (and rational) vetting process, his practice has been to trust only his immediate staff before taking ideas directly to the president. Many of the ideas that Bush has subsequently bought into have proved offensive to the values of the Constitution and have been embarrassingly overturned by the courts.
The corollary to Cheney's zealous embrace of secrecy is his near total aversion to the notion of accountability. I've never seen a former member of the House of Representatives demonstrate such contempt for Congress -- even when it was controlled by his own party. His insistence on invoking executive privilege to block virtually every congressional request for information has been stupefying -- it's almost as if he denies the legitimacy of an equal branch of government. Nor does he exhibit much respect for public opinion, which amounts to indifference toward being held accountable by the people who elected him.
Whatever authority a vice president has is derived from the president under whom he serves. There are no powers inherent in the office; they must be delegated by the president. Somehow, not only has Cheney been given vast authority by President Bush -- including, apparently, the entire intelligence portfolio -- but he also pursues his own agenda. The real question is why the president allows this to happen.
Three decades ago we lived through another painful example of a White House exceeding its authority, lying to the American people, breaking the law and shrouding everything it did in secrecy. Watergate wrenched the country, and our constitutional system, like nothing before. We spent years trying to identify and absorb the lessons of this great excess. But here we are again.
Since the Carter administration left office, we have been criticized for many things. Yet I remain enormously proud of what we did in those four years, especially that we told the truth, obeyed the law and kept the peace.
The writer was vice president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.
© 2007 The Washington Post Company
Child health insurance bill faces veto
Child health insurance bill faces veto
By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press Writer
50 minutes ago
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration said Saturday that senior advisers would recommend the president veto Senate legislation that would substantially increase funds for children's health insurance.
The legislation calls for a 61-cent increase in the federal excise tax on a pack of cigarettes. The revenue would be used to subsidize health insurance for children and some adults with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford insurance on their own. Members of the Senate Finance Committee brokered a bipartisan agreement Friday that would add $35 billion to the program over the next five years. The Bush administration had instead recommend $5 billion.
The Senate legislation expands the State Children's Health Insurance Program beyond the original intent of the program, said White House Spokesman Tony Fratto.
"It's clear that it will have the effect of encouraging many to drop private coverage — purchased either through their employer or with their own resources — to go on the government-subsidized program," Fratto said. "Tax increases are neither necessary nor advisable to appropriately fund SCHIP."
Congress is considering renewing the program before it expires Sept. 30. When Congress approved the program in 1997, it provided $40 billion over 10 years. States use the money, along with their own dollars, to subsidize the cost of health insurance. The federal government covers about 70 percent of the cost.
"Congress needs to deliver a bill the president can sign or they need to send him an extension so that people don't worry about losing their current coverage," Fratto said. "It's important that Congress understands the serious consequences of delaying this or sending the president legislation that he clearly cannot sign."
Fratto also called on the Senate Finance Committee to consider the president's recommendation to tax employees on the health insurance premiums paid by their employers. The president would offset the increased taxes by giving taxpayers a deduction or credit. The result would be a tax cut for most families, but not for those with the highest-priced insurance plans.
"We believe that these proposals would mean that as many as 20 million others who have no health insurance would purchase basic coverage," Fratto said.
Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, had called on the president Thursday to step back from veto threats of legislation that had not been finalized yet.
Grassley and Hatch said they would like to consider the president's proposals to change how tax law treats health insurance. Such changes could make insurance more affordable for many families, but now is not the time, they said.
"Not taking that (tax proposal) on is a missed opportunity, but it's not realistic given the lack of bipartisan support," the senators said.
Grassley and Hatch were among the lawmakers that backed the agreement reached late Friday with key Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the committee's chairman, said the proposal would lead to more than 3 million uninsured children obtaining health coverage. But others said that estimate is high because they believe some families that would sign up for the program would have already been getting their coverage through the private sector.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.
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Bush admits administration leaked agent name
Bush admits administration leaked agent name
President seeks to put Libby issue to rest
The Associated Press
Updated: 11:47 a.m. ET July 12, 2007
WASHINGTON - President Bush on Thursday acknowledged publicly for the first time that someone in his administration likely leaked the name of a CIA operative, although he also said he hopes the controversy over his decision to spare prison for a former White House aide has "run its course."
"And now we're going to move on," Bush said in a White House news conference.
The president had initially said he would fire anyone in his administration found to have publicly disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and a CIA operative. Ten days ago, Bush commuted the 30-month sentence given to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby by a federal judge in connection with the case.
Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, had been convicted of lying and obstruction of justice in the CIA-leak case.
Bush would not directly address answer a question about whether he is disappointed in the White House officials who leaked Plame's name.
"I'm aware of the fact that perhaps somebody in the administration did disclose the name of that person," Bush said. "I've often thought about what would have happened if that person had come forth and said, 'I did it.' Would we have had this endless hours of investigation and a lot of money being spent on this matter? But, so, it's been a tough issue for a lot of people in the White House. It's run its course and now we're going to move on."
He also defended the decision to commute Libby's sentence. "The Scooter Libby decision was, I thought, a fair and balanced decision," Bush said.
Full Libby pardon?
In comments shortly after the commutation was announced, the president left open the possibility of an eventual pardon for Libby.
"As to the future, I rule nothing in and nothing out," the president said a day after commuting Libby's 2 1/2-year prison term in the CIA leak case.
Bush said he had weighed his decision carefully to erase Libby's prison time for lying and obstruction of justice. He said the jury's conviction should stand but the prison term was too severe.
"I made a judgment, a considered judgment, that I believe was the right decision to make in this case," the president said. "And I stand by it."
Chief Bush spokesman Tony Snow has said Bush was satisfied with his decision to commute Libby's sentence.
"He thought any jail time was excessive. He did not see fit to have Scooter Libby taken to jail," Snow said.
The spokesman told reporters at a White House briefing last week that even with Bush's decision, Libby has a felony conviction on his record, two years probation, a $250,000 fine and probable loss of his legal career. "So this is hardly a slap on the wrist," Snow said. "It is a very severe penalty.
While Democrats criticized the president, Snow said Bush was "getting pounded on the right for not granting a full pardon."
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who sentenced Libby to prison, declined Tuesday to discuss the case or his views on sentencing. "To now say anything about sentencing on the heels of yesterday's events will inevitably be construed as comments on the president's commutation decision, which would be inappropriate," the judge said in an e-mail.
With prison seeming all but certain for Libby, Bush suddenly spared Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. His move came just five hours after a federal appeals court panel ruled that Libby could not delay his prison term. The Bureau of Prisons had already assigned Libby a prison identification number.
Asked whether Cheney — who calls Libby a friend and who has enormous influence within the White House — had pressed for Bush to commute Libby's sentence, Snow said, "I don't have direct knowledge. But on the other hand, the president did consult with most senior officials, and I'm sure that everybody had an opportunity to share their views."
"I'm sure that the vice president may have expressed an opinion. ... He may have recused himself. I honestly don't know," Snow said.
However, the president made the decision without seeking any advice from the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Justice Department, the White House had previously said.
Snow defended Bush's decision to not follow the usual course of running the matter past the Justice Department, saying details of the case were still fresh in everybody's mind, and that the president did not need to be brought up to date on details.
Democrats have charged cronyism in Bush's sparing Libby jail time. But Snow said, "The president does not look upon this as granting a favor to anyone, and to do that is to misconstrue the nature of the deliberations."
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