Share this article

print logo

CABINET SHIFTS ALREADY UNDER WAY

Political pundits have been having a field day since the elections trying to impress us all with their prognostications about President's Bush's second term. My clip file continues to grow daily with observations from some experienced political observers and from those who just want to be heard but really have no expertise.

President Bush and his chief political adviser, Karl Rove, have already laid out some of their goals for the next four years. The president wants to create a simpler tax code and transform Social Security by diverting a portion of the payroll tax to fund private retirement accounts. Both of these proposals are highly controversial, and no action on either of them will take place immediately.

The president floated both of these ideas during his first term and pursued them vigorously during his re-election campaign. Now, pursuing what he calls his election "mandate," he will name commissions to review all the ramifications of these radical proposals before asking Congress to act on them.

The president likely will seek quick action on other matters that he had proposed but that were blocked by the Senate. For example, he wants legislation that would establish higher standards for high school students and limit lawsuit awards against doctors.

Despite picking up four additional Senate seats -- Republicans now have 55 senators in place -- the GOP is still short of the 60-vote filibuster-proof margin. This will pose particular problems for Bush when he makes nominations for the Supreme Court, the first of which may come fairly quickly given the illness of the chief justice. He could possibly have four vacancies to fill in the next four years. Major battles could be looming if his candidates are too conservative to win the Democratic votes needed for confirmation.

The political pundits are not too split on the issues Bush will be facing in the immediate future, but they are all over the lot in predicting personnel changes the president will make for his second term.

The first changes occurred last week with the resignations of Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans. The president quickly named White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to replace Ashcroft.

A controversial figure, Ashcroft had been targeted by many for his unrelenting war on terror that has, in the opinion of his critics, deprived many of their civil rights. For more than a year, pundits were predicting that Secretary of State Colin Powell would definitely resign following the election. Now, however, they say he has not given any indication that he will step down. If he were to resign, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, is considered to be a leading candidate to replace him.

Powell has had his difficulties with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who early on had been expected by many to resign. Now his aides say that the defense secretary is interested in keeping his job. Rumsfeld has been criticized by many for overriding the decisions of his top military advisers.

Most of the pundits, qualified and unqualified, feel that Tom Ridge, secretary of homeland security, will be leaving the administration shortly. His was strictly a political appointment. He had no particular expertise for the important operation he was going to head. There's speculation he would be amenable to undertaking another post in the cabinet.

I believe the country will be better off if Rumsfeld joins Ashcroft in leaving the Bush team. He is a hawk who likely would encourage further administration involvement in the affairs of other nations. I would hope that Powell remains in his current post as a conservative voice against pre-emptive strikes and an advocate for diplomatic initiatives as an alternative to military moves.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News.