Nation in Brief

Civil Rights panel criticizes Bush

The government’s civil rights commission and the White House went head to head last week as the group’s leader denounced President George W. Bush’s choice of a new member.

Commission Chairwoman Mary Frances Berry wants committee member Victoria Wilson to stay in her seat and serve a full term of six years. Wilson was appointed by former President Bill Clinton to fill the seat of Leon Higginbotham, who died in 1998.

But the White House said Wilson’s term would expire Nov. 29, the day Higginbotham’s six-year tenure would have ended.

Berry said she would go to court to keep President Bush’s top choice, Peter Kirsanow, from taking over the seat.

Berry joined the commission in 1980 and was appointed charwoman in 1993 by President Clinton.

Kirsanow was sworn in on Wednesday evening at the White House.

At issue is the political leverage of the committee that oversees the nation’s civil rights enforcement.

On Thursday, the White House quoted Berry as saying it would take federal marshals to force her to let Kirsanow take his seat at the commission’s regular meeting.

“What they’re trying to do is muzzle us,” Berry told USA Today. “Sometimes watchdogs bite, and it can be painful.”

The White House said Berry was giving unnecessary “inflammatory rhetoric” that went against the commission’s goal of bringing people together.

Congress stalls on economic stimulus

House and Senate leaders continued their fight Friday over President Bush’s economic stimulus plan.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert accused Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) of “acting in bad faith” by requiring two-thirds of the Senate to ratify any proposals considered over the weekend.

Hastert said Daschle went against a previous agreement between the leaders that would have set the bill in motion within several days.

The House passed its version of the bill in October and the White House has put increasing pressure on the Senate to finish its version.

“The Senate has not acted on the economic security package I proposed in October, and since then, over three-quarters of a million Americans have lost their jobs,” Bush said in a statement.

Daschle told the Associated Press the GOP’s concerns were “an amusing overreaction.”

Daschle said he hopes to move the bill before Congress recesses for the holidays. He said if necessary Senate Democrats would attach unemployment assistance to other bills on fast track for approval.

Bag screening machines costs double

The FAA said Friday the bomb detection machines the government is requiring at major airports within the next year would cost double than previously estimated.

The machines, which use advanced x-ray technology to hunt for explosives and other devices, could range from $4 to 5 billion dollars, up from their original estimate of $2 billion per machine.

Aviation security analysts said operational costs would add millions more to the bottom line.

The FAA must purchase 1,800 of the machines to meet new requirements of Congress’s recent aviation security bill.

And even beyond the costs, security officials told a House subcommittee that deploying the machines by a 2002 deadline is not realistic because the size of the machines requires airports to make architectural changes to their facilities.

Smithsonian fears Bush budget cuts

Recommended cuts by the Bush administration to the Smithsonian Institution’s operating budget could cripple the agency, according to Smithsonian officials who criticized the plans last week.

The Office of Management and Budget said it is considering several changes that would take effect next October.

The cuts and restructuring would move several of the institution’s major research arms to the National Science Foundation while taking $20 million from general funds to improve museum security.

Opponents point to key research centers that would be affected under the new budget. If the research budget shifts went through, the Environmental Research Center near the Chesapeake Bay would close. Scientists there research bay ecosystems and determine global environmental trends. The Bush plan would delete the center’s $3.4 million operating budget.

“The bottom line is, there wouldn’t be anybody or anything left under a plan like this,” Ross Simons, the center’s executive, told The Washington Post.

The OMB said plans are still in the works and nothing has been
approved.

-Zeb Eckert

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