WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Bush said Thursday he doesn’t support increasing gasoline taxes to pay for bridge repairs, calling on Congress to instead change its priorities on spending.
Several members of the House Transportation Committee are calling for the tax hike in the wake of the deadly 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis last week. Congressman James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, Wednesday said he would introduce legislation for bridge repair funding, as well as increased inspections. He says a 5-cent increase in the gas tax would pay for the three-year proposed program, generating $8.5 billion a year.
Citing 74,000 bridges rated by the federal government as “structurally deficient,” Oberstar told reporters, “We cannot wait for another tragedy. We must, and we will, act decisively."
But at Thursday’s White House news conference, President Bush said, “It's an interesting question, about how Congress spends and prioritizes highway money. My suggestion would be that they revisit the process by which they spend gasoline money in the first place.”
Mr. Bush criticized the way Congress approves projects, saying, “From my perspective, the way it seems to have worked is that each member on that committee gets to set his or her own priority first, and then what's ever left over is spent to a funding formula. That's not the right way to prioritize the people's money. So before we raise taxes which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities.”
“If bridges are a priority,” said Mr. Bush, then “let's make sure we set that priority first and foremost, before we raise taxes. “
A new CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll out Thursday shows while 52 percent of respondents are worried another bridge may collapse somewhere around the county, 65% percent would oppose an increase in the gas tax.
- CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk
South Carolina Republicans have moved their primary up to January 19 instead of February 2.
CONCORD, New Hampshire (CNN) - The South Carolina Republican Party announced Thursday it would hold its primary on January 19, nearly three weeks before as many as 20-plus other states hold their own nominating contests.
"Today is truly a historic occasion," South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson said at a news conference in New Hampshire's State Capitol building, where he announced his party's primary date.
- CNN Political Editor Mark Preston
Bush addressed reporters Thursday morning.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Bush's approval rating has gone up slightly since his all-time low in June, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Thursday.
Bush's approval rating in the latest poll was 36 percent, an increase from 32 percent in June. But CNN Polling Director Keating Holland explained that the improvement is entirely due to Republicans turning around and deciding to stand by their president.
"The gain in Bush's approval is due entirely to Republicans coming home," Holland said. "There was no change in the approval rating among Democrats or Independents between this poll and the last one, but Bush's approval rating went up 16 points among Republicans since June."
The poll is based interviews with 1,029 adults, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.
- CNN Associate Producer Lauren Kornreich
WASHINGTON (CNN) - More than half of all Americans are worried about the collapse of a bridge somewhere in the United States. That, according to a new CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll released Thursday.
But only one in three Americans are concerned that a bridge that they drive across regularly will collapse. 69 percent are not worried.
The new numbers come just eight days after an interstate highway bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota collapsed into the Mississippi River. At least five people were killed in the collapse.
Only one third of those we polled favor increasing the tax on gas to pay for bridge inspections and repairs. The federal program to inspect and repair bridges is funded mostly by the federal tax on gasoline. 65 percent of those we questioned are against raising that tax.
CNN Polling Director Keating Holland says, “Polls sometimes show that the public is willing to accept higher taxes to pay for popular projects, but not in this case. With the price of gasoline hovering around three dollars, it may not be surprising that Americans don't want to pay any more at the pump, even though they worry about bridge safety.”
At a news conference Thursday morning at the White House, President Bush dismissed raising the federal gasoline tax at least until Congress changes the way it spends highway money.
- CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Make no mistake about it, Iowa Democrats have no plans of mixing politics with Christmas cheer.
An Iowa Democratic Party official tells CNN that there are no plans to hold their caucuses around the Christmas holidays despite decisions by other states to move up their own nominating contests into January.
The latest move will be announced late Thursday morning by the South Carolina Republican Party, which will hold their primary on January 19, 2008. South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson will make this announcement in Concord, New Hampshire at an event expected to be attended by several of the Granite State's political officials.
It is a symbolic move to show that the first-in-the-nation primary state (New Hampshire) and the first-in-the-South (South Carolina) stand united in protecting their unique roles in helping select the next president.
"Iowa is not going to be driven by the Republican Party in South Carolina making a change to their primary date," said Carrie Giddins, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party. "Nobody wants to go in December and Iowa will remain first in the nation."
The big question is what date will New Hampshire hold the first-in-the nation primary? We are unlikely to learn that Thursday, but the fact that the South Carolina GOP is moving up to Jan. 19 means that New Hampshire will move to a date earlier in the month.
The Iowa Republican Party, which is hosting its Ames straw poll this weekend, is waiting to see what New Hampshire decides before announcing a date for its caucuses.
"We are not going to make any comment or announcement until New Hampshire announces its primary date," said Mary Tiffany, communications director for the Iowa Republican Party.
Another big unanswered question is to what date will the South Carolina Democratic Party move its primary? Right now, South Carolina Democrats are scheduled for January 29, the same day Florida is holding its primary. There might be pressure now to allow the South Carolina Democrats to join the South Carolina Republicans 10 days earlier - a move that would save the state money and give South Carolina its own day in the sun.
- CNN Political Editor Mark Preston
President Bush rides with cyclist Lance Armstrong at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. A spokesman says it's "not uncommon" for Bush to get tick bites during his bike rides
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The White House disclosed Wednesday that President Bush was treated for Lyme disease last summer.
The revelation is in an annual report on Bush's health that declares him "fit for duty." It shows that he was treated last August for symptoms "consistent with early, localized Lyme disease" without any reoccurrence.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told CNN that it is "not uncommon" for Bush to get tick bites during his frequent bike rides. Lyme disease can be transmitted through the bite of a tick that carries the disease.
Powell made a contribution to McCain's campaign, CNN has learned.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - CNN has learned the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain received a check Wednesday from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, providing a symbolic boost to the Arizona Republican's struggling White House bid.
McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker confirmed the contribution, telling CNN, "The Senator appreciates the support of General Powell." Powell's office did not return calls seeking comment.
According to a review of Federal Election Commission records, Powell has not donated to any other candidate this year.
While the McCain campaign would not be more specific about the contribution, a source familiar with the matter said the check totaled $2,300, the maximum an individual can give to any one candidate in the primary season, hinting at a likely endorsement in the future.
McCain advisers are privately thrilled about the contribution from the highly-respected retired Army General, which simultaneously reinforces the senator's credentials as an independent-minded Republican and a strong voice on national security issues.
It also gives the McCain camp a rare bit of positive news after weeks of media stories about staff shake-ups, disappointing fundraising numbers and heavy conservative criticism of the the senator's position on immigration reform - all of which have turned the presumed Republican front-runner into a longshot for the GOP nomination.
Advisers say McCain has been privately expressing regret that early in the campaign, he tried too hard to model his bid after the successful campaigns of President Bush and it never quite felt right. The senator is now privately pledging to do it "my way" by trying to be more of the maverick he was in his 2000 White House bid. The question now, advisers admit, is whether it's too late for the senator to recapture some of the magic of the "old McCain" from that race.
UPDATE: Powell spokeswoman Peggy Cifrino confirmed to CNN that the retired General made the contribution after learning that the senator’s campaign was low on funds, though she stressed this is not a formal endorsement of the candidate.
“John is a longtime friend of General Powell’s,” said Cifrino. “But he has not endorsed John McCain nor any other candidate.”
As for whether there will be an endorsement down the road, she said it “remains to be seen” and would not speculate.
- CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry