Sunday :: May 4, 2003

Bush Finds It Easier to Spin the Media Than Manage a GOP Congress


by Steve

As evidenced by these two pieces in Time magazine and tomorrow’s Washington Post, President Bush is finding that blowing smoke up the media’s ass on a carrier deck is easier than convincing Congress to pass his tax cut. The story by Jonathan Weisman and Dana Milbank of the Post shows that the White House’s “my way or the highway” approach, and its targeting and unseating of Democratic Senators who supported the 2001 tax cut has cost it the opportunity to convince swing Democrats to go along with them this time. It doesn’t help that Grover Norquist reveals Bush’s plans to make tax cuts an annual event and declare victory.

John Dickerson’s piece in Time today shows that despite controlling Congress, Bush is now unable to get his own tax package through, and because of the outright hostility between Denny Hastert and the Bill Frist-led Senate, the House doesn’t care any more if they can or cannot work together with the Senate. This friction has led the House to move off of Bush’s dividend tax elimination plan and substitute a capital gains tax cut plan instead, which the White House now opposes. More importantly, even GOP strategists concede that such a move makes the GOP even more vulnerable to charges of caring only for the wealthy.

So much for a supposed mandate. After the 2002 elections sighing editorial writers and nervous Democrats fretted that the Republican Congress would merely rubber stamp policies being minted out of the White House. But the House and Senate always have issues about ego and power-sharing and righteousness. What is surprising though, is all the public fussing from Republicans who are usually known for maintaining Rockette-like precision compared to their Democratic counterparts. The House is bickering with the Senate, both are exchanging sniping fire with the White House and Republican moderates are off dancing to their own tune. The last couple weeks, admits one weary GOP congressman, "have been a little messy."

So why is the popular and victorious Fighter Pilot-and-Chief not able to get his own party in line for the war dividend he really wants—a $726 billion tax cut centered around an elimination of the tax on dividends? Well, the moderates, despite approving of Bush's handling of the war, don't support his plan for reviving the economy and despite the political benefit Bush won from his carrier display, moderates worry there are no coat-tails on a flight suit. "The Moderates are emboldened," says a White House adviser. "They're from states where there are cutbacks and where the politics have always been close and where people are hurting. This is going to be a constant problem for the White House."

Republicans on the Hill blame the Bush team for inadequately selling the president's plan. "They didn't work members on the front end," complains a senior Republican Senate aide. "They only started talking to them after senators had taken their positions. That won't do." They also complain that the administration relied too heavily on the president's war popularity as the magic element that would push the plan through. Several Republicans took note of an ABC poll last week that says that 57 percent of those asked said that the president's plan favors the rich.

(B)y the end of the week, the White House was working to regroup with their Republican allies in the hopes that where pressure didn't work, cajoling might. They heralded the House alternative tax plan as a move in the right direction and stowed their complaints about Senate leaders. But out on the stump, the president was still putting on the rhetorical pressure. As the unemployment rate reached 6 percent, upping the political stakes for all Republicans, he took several swipes at Congress. "I urge the United States Congress to look at the unemployment numbers that came out today, and pass a tax relief plan that will matter," he said arguing for his plan, "a tax relief plan robust enough so that the people of this country who are looking for work can find a job."

Running against Congress is a well-worn presidential strategy, but something of a surprise since not long before the speech, a top White House aide was making the case that the president could no longer beat up on Congress the way he had when the Senate was in Democratic hands. "We can't do that now," says the aide. "Though the distinction is lost on people about how close the Congress is, it's now a Republican Congress."

It’s kinda hard to blame the Dems George when you can’t even make your House and Senate work together to deliver your own agenda.

Steve :: 10:30 PM :: Comments (2) :: Digg It!