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Washington briefs

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001

Lott suggests compromise on tax cut

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott raised the possibility Sunday that Congress could scale back President Bush's tax cuts in the future if projected surpluses do not materialize -- a shift apparently intended to win support from reluctant centrists of both parties.

The suggestion from Lott comes one day after Bush indicated he might be willing to compromise on his plan to cut taxes by $1.6-trillion over 10 years and just a few days after an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that 73 percent of Americans would support a tax cut if it were tied to the surplus.

Bush has opposed automatic "triggers" that would make tax cuts contingent on reaching goals in paying down the debt or having a certain level of surplus money.

Tax relief passed the Republican-controlled House last week with little support from Democrats, whose help will be crucial if Bush's plan is to pass in a Senate that is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Lott said a trigger would inevitably undo the tax cuts. But for the first time, he suggested an alternative.

"I think that if you put a waiver in there for the president or if you had some sort of a midcourse adjustment opportunity where you sort of look at what's happening and set up a process -- but a trigger, which is automatic, it's sort of like, now you see it, now you don't," Lott, R-Miss., told Fox News Sunday.

He did not elaborate on how such an adjustment would work.

Bush delays faith-based initiatives

The Bush administration will delay action on parts of its plan to channel more government money to religious charities until it can quiet some of the surprisingly vehement opposition to the program.

"We're postponing," said Don Eberly, the deputy director of the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. "We're not ready to send our own bill up." Eberly acknowledged that the proposal "may need to be corrected in some areas," particularly the interplay between religious programs and government funding.

The White House expected church-state separation groups to object to the program. But it didn't expect a chorus of doubts from religious conservatives such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Richard Land, Michael Horowitz and even Marvin Olasky, one of the program's early architects.

They worry that churches would be corrupted by government regulations or that objectionable sects would be rewarded.

Ashcroft orders internal FBI review

The FBI will be scrutinized in an internal Justice Department investigation to determine how a former agent allegedly sold U.S. secrets to Russia for 15 years without being detected, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Sunday.

Ashcroft has ordered the department's inspector general to review FBI security procedures in the wake of espionage charges against former agent Robert Philip Hanssen, a counterintelligence expert. The investigation could lead to a recommendation of discipline "if there was any wrongdoing by anybody aside from Hanssen in this case," department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said.

This investigation will be conducted simultaneously with a separate review ordered by the department immediately after Hanssen's arrest last month. William Webster, a former CIA and FBI director, is evaluating the FBI's internal security procedures and will recommend changes to prevent future espionage cases.

Ashcroft said on ABC's This Week that the inspector general would be "following avenues that might not otherwise be determined productive avenues for examination" by Webster.

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