Cheney Unplugged

Cheney Face The Nation
Vice President Dick Cheney, the Bush administration's energy-policy coordinator, wants the Navy to pay the escalating electricity bill for his home on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.

And by a party-line 33-29 vote, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday to let the Navy — and not Cheney's office — pay the monthly energy charges.

The request, a $186,000 item in a spending bill, was denounced by Democrats, who said it would create a double standard.

"I think it shows a staggering insensitivity to hardships facing working families today," Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe told CBS News White House Correspondent Peter Maer.

Republicans defended the shift as the continuation of a move that began when Democrat Al Gore was vice president to have the Navy shoulder more of the residence's utility costs. And they said that since Cheney has been vice president, the electric bill there has dropped by 30 percent.

"Now, who is it who's practicing conservation, Dick Cheney or Al Gore?" asked Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., chief author of the spending bills that covers the president's and vice president's expenses.

Whatever portion of the electric bill is not paid by the Navy is paid from the vice president's official budget — not out of his own pocket.

"It costs the taxpayers the same amount of money" either way, Istook said.

Still, Democrats complained that Cheney, whom President Bush picked to lead the administration's energy policy efforts, should have to adjust his budget for growing electricity costs like millions of other Americans.

"The vice president is going to be insulated from the impact of energy prices that will fall on all other Americans," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., whose amendment to strip the money from the bill was defeated.

The Bush administration scrambled to defend the $186,000 request, first reported in The New York Times.

"This is nothing new. This is something Al Gore did," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Istook called reports of the shift "an outrageous bit of partisanship" and "advocacy masquerading as journalism."

Last year, Congress appropriated $42,600 from the vice president's budget to pay for electricity at the 33-room mansion, leaving the Navy responsible for the remaining $93,900.

This year, however, the Bush administration would like the Navy to pick up the entire tab.

The electric bills at the vice presidential residence have soared since a meter was installed in 1998.

"The ball was started on transferring the residence's utilities to the Navy's budget at least two years ago," said Juleanna Glover Weiss, a spokeswoman for Cheney. "This is not something we came forward with."

She said the Cheneys are trying to conserve energy to keep the electric bills down, but that has been difficult because of the drain from various security systems and a large, energy-inefficient air conditioner installed in 199.

Furthermore, said Fleischer, the $186,000 estimate for the year was determined by taking the expenses for the first six months of fiscal 2001, which began Oct. 1, when Gore was still vice president, and multiplying it by two.

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