WASHINGTON INSIGHT

From The Times Washington Staff

CONGRESSIONAL KUDOS: President Bush's decision to provide increased Western economic help to the Soviet Union is likely to win broad support when he addresses a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, congressional strategists say.

Beleaguered by negative reaction at home to the savings and loan crisis and other national ills, the lawmakers have been "looking for something positive" that they can support, key Capitol Hill watchers say. Many in Congress already appear to be prepared to reward Moscow for backing the United Nations sanctions against Iraq. "The Soviets deserve some thanks," the hawkish Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said.

Bush is considering an international effort to provide massive economic aid to Moscow--complementing a modest boost in U.S. assistance with contributions from other Western nations. Bureaucrats also are preparing legislation that would grant most-favored-nation trade status to Moscow--a goal the Soviets have been pursuing for months.

WHERE THE BOYS ARE: President Bush plans to visit American troops in Saudi Arabia, both as a morale-builder and to bolster political support at home. But the White House inadvertently confirmed that as it stands now, the President isn't expecting the troops to come home soon. Among the dates being considered for his visit: Thanksgiving--or even Christmas.

Part of the reason for the holdup: an already hectic schedule. The President already has an autumn full of political campaign trips on the calendar, and he is hoping to revive a plan to spend a week in Latin America, a trip that was scuttled because of the Iraq crisis.

WAR WOES: Top U.S. economic policy-makers are becoming increasingly worried about the growing weakness of the U.S. economy. Although Bush Administration officials are maintaining an optimistic face in public, some strategists are fearful that this weakening will squeeze the budget deficit and make it more difficult to finance operations in the Mideast.

Particularly troublesome is the continued slide in the value of the dollar, which has plunged some 7% since the gulf crisis began--mainly as a reflection of financial markets' fears that the White House is trying to pressure the Federal Reserve Board to abandon its stand against inflation.

On White House orders, top Administration officials have eased their criticism of the Fed in recent days, but analysts say that much still depends on how well White House and congressional negotiators do at hammering out an accord on narrowing the federal budget deficit.

THE BRADY CRUNCH?: Capital gossips couldn't help notice a big disparity last week, when Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady went on separate round-the-world trips to ask America's allies to contribute financially to the campaign against Iraq. Baker brought back promises of billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and the exiled emir of Kuwait, while Brady had to settle for lukewarm responses from Britain, France, South Korea and Japan. Administration watchers say the disparity wasn't accidental, however: Baker, who is senior to Brady, grabbed trips to those capitals from which the United States had advance assurances that the governments were willing to contribute big.

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