AUSTIN, Texas -- Excuse me, but the Bush administration's "internal contradictions," as the communists used to say, are showing like a dirty slip. On Jan. 25, the administration ordered federal agencies to review their contracts with Arthur Andersen and Enron, saying the scandal swirling around the companies raise doubts about whether they should continue to receive taxpayer money.

This would be well and good if the same administration had not, on Dec. 27, repealed a Clinton-era rule that prevents the government from awarding federal contracts to businesses that have broken environmental, labor, tax, civil rights or other laws. What we have here is not so much hypocrisy as complete incoherence. Shouldn't they have to wait at least a month before they contradict themselves? Or maybe the Bush doctrine is that you can give government contacts to chronic lawbreakers as long as they're not in the headlines.

The repeal of the Clinton rule by the Bushies -- nicely timed for minimum attention between Christmas and New Year's -- stopped federal agencies from considering the lawbreaking record of corporations in the process of granting contracts. As you know, many corporations repeatedly violate the law, and if and when they are caught, they pay a slap-on-the-wrist fine and continue on their merry way. A study by The Associated Press found hundreds of contractors that remain eligible for federal contracts despite having been convicted of or sued for defrauding the government.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce naturally denounced the Clinton rule as "blacklisting" and even organized a National Alliance Against Blacklisting with other business groups. Blacklisted for repeatedly breaking the law? What a dreadful thought. Lawbreakers have to make a living, too, so why not reward them with millions of taxpayer dollars? Why should "three strikes and you're out" apply to corporations as well as to gormless citizens who shoplift sandwiches? Who do you think is running this country?

Unless, of course, the corporation is Arthur Andersen or Enron and a source of political embarrassment to the administration. Bush is craw-daddin' away from his old friend Kenny Boy just as fast as he can.

Another mind-bending example of the Bush method of governance -- which shell is the pea under today? -- was last week's announcement by Health and Human Services that poor women would be able to get prenatal care under CHIP (the Children's Health Insurance Program) by defining a fetus as "child." This move set off a great squawking from the pro-choice lobby.

Kate Michaelman of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League said: "This is not about health care for women. It's all about politics. It's about undermining a woman's right to choose, disguised as health policy." Meanwhile, the right-to-lifers were crowing. Their national spokesman said, "We applaud this proposal to recognize the existence of the an unborn child in order to allow the baby, and the mother as well, to receive adequate prenatal care -- a concept to which only the most extreme pro-abortion ideologues will object." Ha, ha, ha, even the liberals will have to support this one.

Whether or not the administration intended a sneak attack on abortion rights, the fact is the move is irrelevant. In case you hasn't noticed, CHIP is running out of money. In Texas, where Gov. George Bush's tax cuts left the budget cupboard bare, the program is in deep doo-doo, with a projected deficit of $105 million for the biennium. Faced with the across-the-board "belt-tightening" order from Gov. Rick ("Goodhair") Perry, our health commissioner came up with a creative package: freeze enrollment, put kids on a waiting list, delay starts dates for coverage and reduce the length of automatic enrollment. This is the famous Texas ploy of making it so difficult and unpleasant for people to apply for help to which they are entitled that practically no one makes it through the bureaucratic maze.

What difference does it make if you declare poor women are eligible for prenatal care when the whole program is broke? Just put the "unborn child" on the waiting list with everyone else, soon it will be a born child, also unable to get health insurance, thus saving us all a lot of pointless debate.

Jamie Galbraith, the useful University of Texas economist, has a sensible suggestion about what we can do about the looming crisis in state budgets: "Recreate a revenue-sharing program for the states, with a pass-through to cities, on a scale sufficient to plug the budget gaps. Let's say $100 billion in the first year. Pass it with very few strings, as a block grant, and get past the Washington gridlock. Revenue sharing has Republican lineage; it ought to be a bipartisan cause today. The federal government could also make it easier for states to borrow in support of their capital programs."

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2002 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.