Bush Might Make It Easier For Democrats
With their newfound power Democrats face expectations and obligations. The first two post-election polls, by Newsweek and now by Gallup, show that the public is granting the Democrats a honeymoon to set a different tone and get things done in Washington, even if both polls came up with slightly different results.
As we reported on last week, the Newsweek poll, taken in the immediate aftermath of the midterm election showed that the public wanted the Democrats to not move too fast on withdrawing troops from Iraq. Yet the poll found large support for the Democrats’ agenda:
And there’s massive support for much of the Democratic Congress’s presumed agenda. For instance, 75 percent of Americans say allowing the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices for seniors should be a “top priority,” including 67 percent of Republicans. Increasing the minimum wage comes next (68 percent) on the public’s list, followed by investigating government contracts in Iraq (60 percent).
The Gallup poll, taken over the weekend after several days of analysis from the chattering class said that by a 61%-31% margin, the public wanted the Democratic-led Congress to have the lead role in determining the direction of the country compared to those who want Bush to have that lead role. In fact, the other results in this poll indicate that, like the Newsweek poll before it, the midterm election served to bury the Bush Administration these last two years, with Bush’s approval rating dropping to 33% and his personal unfavorability rating hitting its highest level ever. Nearly half of the country said that the country will be better off with Democrats in control in the Congress, and the party’s approval rating after the first week of media attention to Pelosi and Reid has shot up to 57%.
But what does the country expect, and want the Democrats to do?
The Gallup poll results indicated the following:
Not likely: 37%
Make Prescription Drugs More Affordable
Not likely: 46%
Vote For Withdrawal From Iraq
Not likely: 49%
Address Congressional Corruption
Not likely: 51%
The public will be surprised when the Democrats do in fact tackle the Medicare Part D bill and congressional corruption early, as Pelosi has already committed to. And they will also be surprised when the Democrats don’t raise taxes on a vast majority of Americans but do in fact restore “pay-as-you-go” budgeting and the Clinton-era higher bracket tax rates as part of that effort.
How is each side likely to move forward and can Bush do anything to reverse these numbers? It doesn’t seem likely at this point that Bush can or will do anything to improve his position. He has already come out since the election and opposed efforts to put cost controls into the Medicare Part D program, putting him on the side of drug companies and HMOs against seniors and fiscal hawks in his own party on an issue that Pelosi and Reid will be happy to ram down his throat early. And despite the rhetoric from the White House about working with Congress on Iraq, and Tony Blair’s preemptive call in advance of the Iraq Study Group to convene the regional security and economic summit Democrats have been suggesting for years, Bush has rejected calls for dialogue with Iran and Syria and said that regardless of what the Baker report suggests, only the military situation on the ground in Iraq will dictate his policies, which is shorthand for “if Gates says so, then maybe.”
Democrats have read these polls and decided that they will press Bush on Iraq from the outset, rather than wait too much longer for the Baker report. Frankly I am surprised at this, as I had thought that in the aftermath of the Newsweek poll’s findings on Iraq and national security that Democrats would go slowly on this. But Levin, Biden, and Murtha have apparently concluded that there is little risk to staking out a more aggressive position on withdrawals after last week, especially if they think the Baker report will suggest redeployment and anticipate the White House initially rejecting this.
Furthermore, Democrats will press their advantage elsewhere as well, as it appears that aside from Iraq, congressional corruption, and the Medicare Part D bill, Democrats have heard the economic concerns from many races last week and are ready to challenge the free traders in both parties and will insert labor and environmental clauses in free trade agreements that protect workers at home and abroad as much as possible. And Democrats will go to bat for the Big Three automakers and a level playing field on trade, reflecting that the power has shifted to key congressional Democrats in the last week, and will allow Barack Obama to sunshine his grand compromise on industry health care and fuel efficiency as a possible remedy.
Democrats now have the platform they have been waiting for to push their case in front of the American people, at a time when Bush has an almost empty cupboard in response. If they can effectively stay on message and press their advantages in the next six months, they can deliver on issues that matter to voters in 2008 and demonstrate leadership. They can also make it difficult for the GOP’s presidential candidates as well, at a time when both polls found declining support for the GOP in presidential preference.