Bush resists turn of tables on perks Democrats' tactic angers White House

March 31, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Reform of perquisites does not begin at home for President Bush, the White House said yesterday.

Mr. Bush, who is leading the charge to force Congress to give up many of its tradition-bound privileges of office, is resisting an attempt by Democratic lawmakers to turn the tables on him.

Indeed, the administration is expanding the benefits for White House employees.

Door-to-door chauffeur service for top Bush aides has recently been extended to include Clayton Yeutter, the new domestic policy chief, and W. Henson Moore, the deputy White House chief of staff, as well as six others.

Critics say that by allowing himself to appear insensitive to JTC questions about perks at the White House, Mr. Bush may be risking a central part of his re-election strategy, which is to run against Congress as a corrupt branch of government that is holding back his proposals for reform.

"It looks hypocritical," said Stuart Eizenstat, former President Jimmy Carter's domestic policy adviser, who suggested that Mr. Bush needs to make at least some symbolic cuts in perks at the White House.

But speaking as one who was personally affected when Mr. Carter axed the chauffeur service used by top aides in his day, Mr. Eizenstat said that was probably a mistake.

"I lost an hour of reading time every day," he said. "But there are a lot of lower-level people in the agencies, like deputy assistant secretaries, who have cars and don't need them."

Privately, Bush aides and campaign advisers are furious over what they see as a diversionary tactic by House Speaker Thomas S. Foley to deflect attention from the House bank scandal.

Mr. Foley is one of several Democratic leaders suggesting that the focus of public scrutiny on excesses in office should also be directed at the executive branch. A House subcommittee will open hearings today on the cost of presidential travel and entertainment.

Bush administration officials said yesterday they have no intention of cutting back on the special benefits of working at the White House. Nor are they particularly willing to cooperate with Congress' efforts to get a fuller accounting of exactly how much money is spent on those benefits.

The difference, according to presidential spokeswoman Judy Smith, is that White House perks are often necessary to do the job, while the special privileges available in Congress have led to "abuse of the system," such as the bank scandal.

Mr. Bush fired his chief of staff, John H. Sununu, in December after press reports of the aide's abuse of free travel privileges made him an embarrassment to the president. But officials argue that the Sununu case shows the president will act on abuse if it occurs.

"We're confident that the system in place to handle these kinds of issues [has] checks and balances, and we're sure that those are working," Ms. Smith said.

Democratic lawmakers say there isn't a good system in place because it's nearly impossible to determine how these privileges are being used or how much they cost.

Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat who heads a Civil Service subcommittee that oversees the White House, has called a series of hearings beginning today to try to determine, for example, the total cost of presidential travel. The money is scattered throughout the budgets of many different federal agencies, most of which won't talk about it without White House approval.

As of last night, it wasn't clear whether a representative of the White House would appear today to talk about it, either.

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