Senate Leader Faults Bush on Oil Spill, Space Proposal

SENATE majority leader George Mitchell says President Bush has done ``pretty well'' in his first six months in office. But Senator Mitchell charges Mr. Bush with making at least two ``serious mistakes.''

The President first stumbled by ``mishandling of the Alaska oil spill,'' Mitchell says. ``There was a complete failure of presidential leadership.''

Mitchell says the result was ``damage far more extensive'' than necessary.

He adds: ``The only two people in the country who think that the Alaska oil spill was cleaned up promptly and properly are the president of Exxon and the President of the United States.''

Mitchell's second criticism involves the President's speeches - ``full of grand rhetoric'' - which he says are followed by policy proposals that are ``timid and weak.''

The Democratic leader points particularly to Bush's oratory on the exploration of space.

The President talks sweepingly of trips to the moon and Mars, he says, but then offers the country no ``plan ... no timetable, no details, no costs, no mechanism to pay for it.

``It's a tactic, used increasingly by presidents, ... of effectively using the power of television'' to impress the public.

Mitchell made his comments to a small group of reporters on Capitol Hill. The senator spoke on a wide range of topics, including capital-gains taxes, flag-burning, and the scandal in the Housing and Urban Development Department.

Mitchell says he will ``strongly oppose'' White House efforts to cut taxes on capital gains at this time.

``I favor a capital-gains differential in the context of a fair and progressive income tax structure,'' he explains. ``But this is not the time, and certainly the President's proposal is not the proposal.''

One major reason, says Mitchell, is that Bush's capital-gains cut would exacerbate the extremes of wealth and poverty in the US.

``Those at the top of the scale in America now receive a share of the national income ... that is the largest in history. [Yet] 80 percent of the benefit from the President's proposal would go to the top 2 percent by income. ... The top 1 percent, those making $200,000 or more, [get] 60 percent of the benefit - an average cut in their taxes of $31,000 a year. [Do] those making $200,000 or more a year need a $31,000 a year tax cut?''

Proposals to ban flag-burning by adopting a constitutional amendment should be handled in a ``careful, deliberative, responsible way,'' says Mitchell; but the President, he charges, hasn't done that.

Bush announced support for an amendment just days after a Supreme Court decision that legalized flag-burning.

The senator says that such hasty action reflects ``a lack of consideration that is not becoming of a national leader.... This is something that has never been done in the nation's history - an amendment to the Constitution that affects the Bill of Rights.

``At the very least,'' says Mitchell, such a precedent-setting move ought to be the subject of some reflection and thought and consideration and debate.''

The HUD crisis, however, brought softer words from Mitchell: ``The American people have more intelligence than to think that either political party has a monopoly on rectitude or morality.

``This is not unique to Democrats, to Republicans, or even to American government,'' says the senator. ``As long as institutions are created and managed by humans, you are going to have human failures and mistakes in judgment.''

The greatness of the American system, Mitchell says, is that the US has checks and balances to keep corruption under control.

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