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News Briefs

Bush to Declare ’Reading Crisis’ To Push Federal Education Bill


The White House on Thursday unveiled plans for a public relations blitz aimed at forcing fast action on President Bush’s education reform plan, even as congressional conferees expressed deepening concern that budget problems could delay final passage.

Bush, who’s urged Congress to take up education at the beginning of its fall debates on 13 spending bills, will try to generate pressure from voters by proclaiming a “reading crisis” and devoting all of next week to his proposals to improve reading proficiency.

First Lady Laura Bush will take the unusual step of traveling to Capitol Hill to speak to lawmakers of both parties about her effort to encourage early reading. The administration also plans to release a checklist for parents, available on the Web, designed to help them evaluate school reading programs and improve their children’s reading skills. .

Under the Senate measure, $31.7 billion would be authorized, while the House contemplates spending $22.9 billion -- a $4.9 billion increase over the current budget. The Bush budget calls for a smaller increase. The president has insisted that his budget priorities must be met without tapping into the Social Security surplus.

Cheney Refuses to Disclose Energy Task Force Participants


Dick Cheney refused to tell Congress Thursday about private meetings his energy task force held with special interest groups while drafting a national energy policy, missing a deadline imposed by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Also Thursday, a White House official said President Bush is preparing to invoke executive privilege Friday in refusing to turn over documents to a Republican lawmaker related to federal prosecutors’ decisions in cases involving Democratic fund-raising abuses.

It would be Bush’s first use of the privilege, the right of a president to keep secret the advice and deliberations that go into his decision-making.

Cheney’s refusal leaves David M. Walker, GAO comptroller general, to seek a court order to compel the vice president to produce the information -- something the GAO has never done -- or to drop the matter. Walker is expected to issue a statement Friday.

EU Presence Lends Hope to UN Sponsored Conference on Racism


A United Nations conference on racism moved Thursday toward its conclusion with negotiators working around the clock to prevent its collapse over the controversial issues of Israeli-Palestinian relations and Western reparations for slavery and colonialism.

The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, due to end Friday, has already lost much of its significance since the United States and Israel walked out of the meeting Monday to protest Arab states’ virulent anti-Israel language proposed for inclusion in the final conference documents.

The sessions were expected to continue until very late Thursday night in an effort to hammer out a compromise, and European diplomats said they may still withdraw from the conference if no significant progress is made. Despite their own reservations, the 15 European Union states have remained as participants, fueling hopes that the meeting can be saved even as the West continues to battle both Arab and African positions in separate closed-door sessions.