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In the Loop

Running on Empty

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page A13

Back in the spring of 1996, President Bill Clinton announced he would tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to curb rising gasoline prices. The cost of a gallon had spiked about 12 percent in the weeks before Clinton's move, to about $1.30 per gallon, and the rapid increase had become a hotly debated and partisan issue.

Clinton's presidential opponent, Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), reflecting what one account called "the capital's mounting obsession with energy prices," demanded repeal of Clinton's newly enacted 4.3 cents-per-gallon tax. "I'm glad he's finally concerned about gas prices," Dole said. "I'm glad we finally got his attention."

_____In the Loop_____
Zoellick Keeps His Head (The Washington Post, Apr 20, 2005)
First Fan Knows His Way Around the Diamond (The Washington Post, Apr 18, 2005)
Voice of America by Way of Hong Kong (The Washington Post, Apr 15, 2005)
DeLay Finds Missing Link (The Washington Post, Apr 13, 2005)
No News Is Good News (The Washington Post, Apr 8, 2005)
More In the Loop

In October 2000, Clinton -- absolutely not, in no way, trying to help Vice President Al Gore's presidential bid -- tapped into the reserve again lest gas, then just over $1.50 a gallon, and home heating oil prices get too high. Challenger George W. Bush (R) promptly assailed the move as purely political.

But now, with gasoline prices at $2.15, having spiked 12 percent in one month and up about 23 percent in a year, there is, at best, muted political tussling. President Bush, whose drooping popularity may be correlated to gas prices, says, when he mentions the problem, that he's "deeply concerned . . . worried about the trends," wants to work with Congress on conservation and so on.

Just over 34 percent of those interviewed in a recent Washington Post poll blamed Bush for the price hikes. That is substantially more than the 23 percent who blamed foreign oil producers or the 19 percent who blamed U.S. oil companies. Eleven percent blamed all of the above.

Voters say they care about this. Nearly 57 percent in the poll said gas price increases had caused them financial hardship -- the same percentage that a Gallup poll found back in 1996 when Clinton tapped the reserve. And 29 percent said it had been a "serious hardship."

And, oddly enough, it's not that the media have again been asleep at the switch. It would be hard to find a newspaper or local TV station that hasn't gone out to a gas pump and rounded up the trucker, the cabbie and the carpooler.

But on the Hill? Nary a rustle, so far. Of course, they have been busy with saving Social Security, which will be on its last legs in just 36 years, and the Terri Schiavo situation. But even so, you'd think at least there would have been hearings, bleating, posturing, finger-pointing, the usual deliberative process.

Maybe the public's become inured to price increases. Maybe it's too long until the next election. Or is it merely the splendor of one-party government?

EU de Gray

Washington lawyer C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel in Bush I and recently head of a project to push Bush II's conservative judicial nominees through the Senate, is said to be in line to be named ambassador to the European Union. The posting would be in Brussels. (A pied-a-terre in nearby Paris is recommended.)

Gray, a law clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren and, according to his résumé, first in his law class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been a key player in conservative groups, including Citizens for a Sound Economy, as well as a major figure in the legal establishment here.

First, Make No Misteak

The first Bloomberg wire about corporate intelligence company Diligence Inc. expanding to Latin America arrived early yesterday afternoon. The company is headed by former ambassador to Germany Richard Burt, a member of many corporate boards, including Hollinger International Inc.

The wire said Burt's "reputation suffered from his role at Hollinger," where former chairman Conrad Black "looted the company." An investigative panel report, the wire said, "accused Burt of 'putting his own interests above those of Hollinger's shareholders' and called on the ex-director to return $5.4 million in pay."

No, no, no. That was former Pentagon official Richard N. Perle. These two engaged in bitter policy fights when Perle was at the Pentagon and Burt was at State during the Reagan administration. It was known as "The War of the Two Richards."

Bloomberg corrected the wire within a couple hours and issued a global apology. Hey, it happens. Ever tell you about that series of In the Loop columns messing up Gen. Barry McCaffrey's first or last name or his rank? Then there was that photo of Pentagon undersecretary Douglas J. Feith. Or was it J.D. Crouch?

Rumsfeld to England?

So let's see. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says he has sent the White House his selection to succeed Deputy Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. Vice President Cheney says he needs top aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, seen as a top pick to become deputy to Rumsfeld, to stay at the White House.

And yesterday, Navy Secretary Gordon R. England, another top-tier contender, told reporters that he had discussed the deputy job with Rumsfeld, that he would be "pleased" to take it and that it was not his, but Rumsfeld's, announcement to make.

You could almost see the money stampeding to England.

Jones Looking Up

Word is national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley will appoint Frederick L. Jones II as his spokesman, filling the position vacated by Sean McCormack, who has been nominated for State Department spokesman. A lawyer from California and a career foreign service officer, Jones had been No. 2 in the National Security Council press operation.

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