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Washington Calling

U.N. bashing ... Spellings lesson ... time goes by ... more
By Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service


April 10, 2005

Washington - There's no softer punching bag for American politicians than the United Nations, long suspected in Washington of being a sinkhole of greed, corruption and foreign intrigue. But the agency needs to get out its extra-thick pads because it's heading for another round of heavy bashing on Capitol Hill this spring.

It's not just its refusal to show Congress documents pertaining to the ongoing Iraq oil-for-food scandal or the discontent in moderate GOP ranks over President Bush's nomination of John Bolton to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The $1.2 billion loan that Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants the United States to provide for renovating the world body's 39-story green glass headquarters in New York is stirring angst in Congress.

Annan initially asked Bush for an interest-free loan, but the White House insisted that the agency agree to pay 5 percent interest on the loan before the administration would include the project in the State Department's $31.5 billion foreign-aid budget.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., charges that the project is gold-plated. Real estate magnate Donald Trump offered to do the job for $500 million, but was turned down. Sessions says that sampling other New York renovators shows that Trump didn't lowball his bid.

Sessions says a $600 million loan is sufficient. That's "half the original price, but still a generous $100 million more than what Donald Trump said the project should cost," he says.

Let loose the dogs of war: Congress once again is tinkering with time.

The last time lawmakers extended daylight-saving time into winter _ during the Arab oil embargo of 1973 _ it brought a torrent of protests from parents about children being sent out into pitch darkness to stand on highways to catch school buses.

But the House Energy Committee has approved a proposal to extend daylight-saving time two months _ having it start the first Sunday in March instead of April as now happens, and ending it in the first Sunday in November, instead of the current October.

Sponsor Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., contends it would save 100,000 barrels of costly oil a day.

Feisty Education Secretary Margaret Spellings fondly recalls her Texas roots as an "Austin earth mother type of Republican" and friend of George W. Bush. But she's confronting a huge fracas with her home state over federal No Child Left Behind rules.

Spellings says she's holding tough against Texas demands that she exempt up to 9 percent of its students from mandatory school tests on the grounds they are enrolled in learning-disabled programs.

"We're going to take a strong approach to Texas," Spellings vowed, saying there's no justification for exempting that many students.

The National Academy of Sciences is the latest to find that the government's preoccupation since 9/11 with keeping from public scrutiny sensitive _ but unclassified _ information is hurting academic and scientific inquiries.

After a yearlong fight with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over public release of a study detailing the vulnerabilities of U.S. nuclear power plants, the academy complained that government secrecy regimens have left scientists and the industry often working at cross purposes, studying the same issues without knowing what solutions others were looking at or what they had found.

Washington's K Street lobbyists spent a record $2.4 billion lobbying Congress in 2003 - a figure the Center for Public Integrity predicts will hit $3 billion when reports are filed for 2004.

The nonprofit group has collected and posted on its Web site _ - a searchable list of all the public lobbying records filed since 1998. It said it couldn't find 14,000 documents involving the activities of 49 of the 50 largest Washington lobbyists in House and Senate records, and loopholes exempt from reporting those who spend less than one-fifth of their time lobbying.


Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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