TUESDAY: Pork and the President

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BRASILIA: Being president of the U.S. means learning how to multi-task. Bill Clinton was already juggling diplomacy with politics on his South American tour mixing high-level meetings and goodwill visits to slums with as many plugs as possible for the fast-track trade-agreement powers he is seeking from Congress. Then he finds himself in an impromptu Air Force One press briefing on campaign finance, assuring us he will offer himself to Janet Reno for questioning. As if all this wasn't enough, Clinton now has to decide exactly how he is going to use his line-item veto pencil on the $248 billion Defense Appropriations bill.

It's the line-item veto question that Clinton will find the most agonizing. The President ran into a barrage of criticism when he wielded the pork-slashing power on the military construction bill, and aides are urging him to keep cuts low this time. To that end, chief of staff Erskine Bowles has prepared a relatively minuscule list of items on which to use the veto. One item curiously absent from the short list: the AEGIS cruiser set to be built in Trent Lott's home town in Mississippi. Clinton has made his objection to such blatant pieces of pork clear but with so much else on his plate right now, the President may have difficulty doing anything about that.