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Washington in Brief

NMAI EXPECTS 'MOST EVER' INDIANS IN CAPITAL FOR SEPT. 21 PROCESSION

With 11,000 current registrants, the Sept. 21 procession to the National
Museum of the American Indian dedication and grand opening ceremony may
host "the most Indian people in Washington ever" at one time, according to
Thomas Sweeney, the museum's director of public affairs.

The Native Nations Procession will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Smithsonian
Castle - a nod of recognition to the Smithsonian Institution, NMAI's parent
organization. The procession will end at the museum, in front of the U.S.
Capitol. The noon dedication will last for one hour, and at 1 p.m. NMAI
Director W. Rick West will officially open the museum doors. A six-day
festival of Native cultures on the National Mall will commence then also.

The museum, at present nearing completion, occupies the last remaining
space on the National Mall, at the threshold of the Capitol building.
Already Native architect Douglas Cardinal's "design of genius," in West's
phrase, has begun to offer a welcome aesthetic relief to the
marble-and-granite standard for Washington monuments. Sheathed in treated
limestone to mimic time-shorn cliffs, the structural contours recede and
swell again, as much like water as stone can be outside of storybooks. High
curvilinear surfaces seem to find their way as wind. Recessed windows
appear to open on a cliff-dwelling past. As remarked for not the first or
last time during a break from business recently in a suite of congressional
offices with a window view of the museum -- it is a sight to behold on the
Washington skyscape.

Tribes and individuals wishing to participate in the procession must
pre-register. More information on the grand opening and the museum can be
obtained at www.AmericanIndian.si.edu.

For those expecting to visit the museum once it opens, the following is
from the museum Web site: "Due to the extraordinary number of visitors
expected at the time of the opening, free timed passes will be necessary
for entry to the museum. A limited number of passes may be reserved in
advance for a nominal service fee at www.tickets.com, or call toll-free,
(866) 400-NMAI (6624). A limited number of timed entry passes will also be
distributed daily, starting at 10 a.m., at the east entrance of the museum.
Members of the museum will receive free timed entry passes good for entry
any time. Visitors who do not wish to obtain advance passes may wait in
line to enter the museum free-of-charge on a first-come, first-served
basis."

DUELING DEFICITS

The White House released its estimate of the 2004 national budget deficit
on July 30. The figure was $445 billion. If former presidents have pictured
deficits in dollars stacked to the moon and back, then no doubt 445 billion
dollar bills would paper interplanetary space. In any case, $445 billion is
the largest deficit in U.S. history-by 20 percent over the $375 billion
deficit run up in 2003.

The director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, as quoted
in a Washington Post report, considered the $445 billion deficit evidence
of economic recovery because the figure is so much lower than OMB's
previous deficit prediction for 2004, of $521 billion.

But Democrats have long considered the Republican White House's $521
billion projection bogus. When it first appeared, several of them charged
that President Bush knew the national deficit would be of record
proportions, and intentionally overstated it so as to look good when more
accurate predictions later in the election year came in lower. They argued
that the $521 billion deficit figure was always unrealistic.

The deficit influences spending because lawmakers become wary of
appropriating funds with the budget so out of balance. The imbalance could
also tempt the White House and Congress to trim the domestic discretionary
spending that funds many tribal programs, especially if the growing tax
receipts foreseen by the Bush White House fail to reduce it dramatically.
Bush has pledged to halve the deficit as a percentage of the national
economy by 2009, a year after he leaves the presidency even if he's
re-elected in November. In keeping with that plan, the administration
forecast better-than-expected economic growth -- with its additional tax
receipts for the federal treasury -- in 2004.

Democrats consider the promise hollow, drawn from figures based on an
artful selection of assumptions. Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota has
called the five-year projection "make-believe budgeting," and he weighed in
against the latest White House numbers, along with other Democrats on
Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail with presidential candidate John
Kerry.

OMB director Joshua B. Bolten told the Post the deficit is due to a
combination of terrorist attacks and corporate wrongdoing (the latter an
apparent reference to the widespread false valuation of corporate assets
that came to light in the Enron scandal. By this reading, the restatement
of books that has snowballed through much of corporate America not only
diluted stock values and wiped out deferred-tax pensions, but also took a
heavy toll on federal tax receipts from corporate earnings).

The occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are paid for in part by off-budget
supplementary spending that does not factor into deficit estimates.

9/11 COMMISSION REPORT HEARINGS START EARLY

On July 30, a week before first planned, Congress held its initial hearing
on the 9/11 Commission Report before the Senate Government Affairs
Committee. The report is seen in more and more quarters as a blueprint for
the most radical reorganization since the post-Watergate reforms, perhaps
since World War II.

The testimony of commission co-chairmen Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton was
less significant for what it added to the already exhaustive report than
for what the hasty hearing said about lawmakers -- they want to be seen in
the vanguard of reform. But the report, which amounts to a 567-page
indictment of the federal government and its agencies (but curiously few
individuals) for across-the-board failure in its most fundamental duty of
protecting civilians from foreign attack, quite pointedly includes Congress
in the indictment. It goes so far as to suggest revamping committee
structure, and shedding more light on the work of intelligence committees
so that members can get more publicity for their efforts.

The Senate hearings were to have continued the week of Aug. 2, which began
with a "code orange" terrorism alert affecting Washington, New York and
Newark, N.J. But even here, the politics of a presidential election year
came into play. The data behind the alert turned out to be from several
years ago, even before 9/11. Given the timing of the code orange or "high
risk of terrorist attack" alert - days after the Democratic Convention in
Boston, when it might be reasonably expected to dampen the "bounce" in
popularity presidential candidates expect from their nominating conventions
- leading Democrats aired suspicions that the alert's timing was
politically motivated. Bush administration officials strongly denied it,
stating that a close look at classified documents would convince its
critics.

In the House of Representatives, the National Security and Emerging Threats
Subcommittee of the Government Reform Committee was expected to begin a
series of hearings the same week. The House Select Committee on Homeland
Security will hold hearings in mid-August.

In a related development, President George W. Bush announced on Aug. 3 that
he would partially support two of the 9/11 Commission's most high-profile
recommendations - for a national intelligence director or "czar" and a
national counterterrorism center. But the president parted ways with the
commission in insisting the "czar" remain outside the White House so as to
avoid politicization of the office, and without direct final authority over
intelligence budgeting decisions or hiring and firing at intelligence
agencies. As for the national counterterrorism center, Bush would limit it
to coordinating intelligence already gathered, rather than collecting it
through its own agents - spying for it, that is.

A member of the commission immediately said Bush's measures would reduce
the powerful "czar" advocated in the 9/11 report to a figurehead, and
several other commissioners voiced similar objections.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Democratic presidential candidate, called on
Bush to call Congress back into emergency session from its August recess.

Bush rejected the idea. But it was clear that all across Capitol Hill, both
parties were feeling political pressure from the commission's report to get
aboard the bandwagon of national security reform. A few voices also called
for a more deliberate pace and a less politicized process than a
presidential election year is likely to afford. They warned that reforms
enacted in haste now could be felt for generations.