THE PRESIDENT'S POLITICAL POTSHOT
Washington Post: Like it or not, it seems we have entered the 2002 election season. Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle fired first on Friday; President Bush came roaring back over the weekend. The subjects were taxes, budgets and the economy; all fair game, you might say -- this is what politicians are supposed to argue about. But Mr. Bush came close to suggesting that the partisan rhetoric he was employing to such fine effect wasn't legitimate when used by the other side. "It's time to take the spirit of unity that has been prevalent in fighting the war and bring it to Washington, D.C.," the president said. His economic stimulus plan metamorphosed over the holiday into an "economic security plan." The implication is that opposition to his tax cuts would carry a whiff of failed patriotism.
Ill-advised: This tactic strikes us as ill-advised. The unified support from Democrats and Republicans for the war effort since Sept. 11 is admirable, but there's no reason it should extend to unrelated matters. Stretching it too far in fact can only weaken it where it counts. Mr. Bush should let his arguments stand or fall on their merits.
Unfortunately, on the merits many of his arguments don't hold up. He mocked Democrats on Saturday for allegedly arguing that Mr. Bush's expensive, long-term tax cuts caused the recession. But that isn't the argument. The real allegation, which Mr. Bush did not parry because he cannot, is that the tax cuts have pushed the federal budget from surplus back into deficit, thereby squeezing the government's ability to beef up military spending and homeland defense while taking care of the nation's other needs -- notably, the long-term shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare and the immediate gaps in health insurance for more than 40 million Americans. Many of the Bush tax cuts have yet to take effect and could be postponed or canceled, yet Mr. Bush, in an interesting twist of language, now insists that any such postponement would amount to a tax increase.
Many Democrats in Congress, having lacked the courage or wisdom to oppose the bulk of the cuts last spring, aren't particularly well positioned to decry them now. But it was the administration that assured the nation that it could afford the tax cuts, most of the benefit of which will go to the wealthiest Americans, and still have plenty left over for defense, Social Security reform and other needs. That has turned out not to be so. "Not over my dead body" is memorable and dramatic. It won't change the math.
AN UNLOVELY COMPROMISE
Dallas Morning News: "Compromise makes a good umbrella but a poor roof," said the 19th-century poet and editor James Russell Lowell. He might have been speaking about the law that will allow Mexican long-haul trucks to enter the United States.
The product of a compromise between the House and Senate, the law is an umbrella. It allows the United States to say that it met its North American Free Trade Agreement commitment to Mexico, but at the high cost of unfairly discriminating against Mexican trucks and failing adequately to defend the southern border against smugglers of people, drugs and mass-destruction weapons. In this case, an umbrella is better than no cover at all, but the United States can and must do better.
The law, signed by President Bush on Dec. 18, was meant to deal with unsubstantiated fears that Mexican trucks would be so unsafe as to wreak havoc on U.S. highways. It establishes extraordinary safety and inspection requirements on Mexican trucks. It does not require the same of Canadian trucks, which have been free to enter the United States since 1980.
Safety records: The almost hysterical effort to guarantee the safety of Mexican trucks owes much to the connivance of the Teamsters Union. The union said that 36 percent of the trucks failed safety checks, as opposed to 25 percent of U.S. trucks. But the Mexican trucks were overwhelmingly short-haul trucks that ferried containers back and forth across the border and were purposely older and less well-maintained.
Comparing the few Mexican trucks that have special license to travel deep into the United States with U.S. long-haul trucks paints a different and more accurate picture. Only 19 percent of those failed safety checks -- still too many, but better than U.S. trucks.
Of equally great concern, the compromise delays the elimination of the short-haul trucks, which operate in a more shadowy, less-regulated world than long-haul trucks and therefore are more susceptible to smugglers of everything from undocumented workers to cocaine to nuclear weapons.
The United States needs to put a roof over its North American trucking policy. What's good for Mexico ought to be good for Canada. And it should take steps to eliminate the short-haul trucks that represent the truer danger to the nation's safety and a drag on the economy.