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BUSH TURNS RIGHT ON LEGAL SERVICES

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An editorial from

Scripps Howard News ServiceSupporters of the Legal Services Corp. had high hopes that the Bush administration would prove friendly to the agency. Those hopes now appear to have been misplaced, which should come as a relief to taxpayers.

LSC, the federal agency charged with offering legal assistance to the poor, was a favorite target of conservatives throughout the Reagan years.

The Reaganites were right to want to see legal services go. Founded in 1974, it had quickly strayed from its charter of representing poor individuals in mundane legal matters to become an engine of "progressive" social causes - all at taxpayer expense.

Nevertheless, LSC's powerful friends in Congress were determined to keep the agency alive.

Funding continued at more than $300 million a year. President Reagan countered by appointing a like-minded majority to the governing board, which has since pushed reforms to depoliticize the agency.

Those Reagan appointments have now expired, and the White House is feeling pressure from both left and right to replace them. Conservatives advising the White House are confident that the fight is going their way.

One piece of evidence was the administration's recent decision not to nominate former congressman Caldwell Butler as legal services director. Butler had troubled conservatives by displaying what they considered an insufficient understanding of the agency's past abuses.

The poor deserve legal representation. Congress has decided government will help fund it. But taxpayers also deserve to know their money is being spent for its intended purposes.

A sensible board at the Legal Services Corporation - one that continues to reform the agency - can accomplish both objectives.