There’s Still Life in that Lame Duck (Fred Barnes, 11/20/2006, Weekly Standard)
[A]s we learned from the Gingrich years, you can’t govern from Capitol Hill. The president, even weakened as Bush is, remains the central figure in Washington.
Bush has an unmatched set of political tools. With strong Republican minorities in both houses, he has veto power. He never used it to cancel Republican bills, but he’ll be less reluctant to kill Democratic bills. Bush is in charge of foreign policy, as we’ll be visibly reminded next week when he travels to Vietnam and the following week when he goes to Latvia for the NATO summit. And he is the man with the megaphone. He can always command a national audience. Pelosi and Reid can’t. […]
He has considerably more leverage on immigration reform since Republican restrictionists, the bane of Bush’s drive for reform in 2006, took a bath in the election. In the national exit poll, voters favored, 57 to 38 percent, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States. Bush and Democrats are in sync on earned citizenship. But Democrats, given their subservience to organized labor, are leery of a temporary worker program to import cheap foreign labor. Bush wants one, and Democrats will probably have to yield on this for “comprehensive”–Bush’s word–reform to happen.
Compromise will be tougher, if not impossible, on other issues. The problem with reforming Social Security is that Democrats, at heart, are reactionary liberals and the president is a reformer. What there is of a Democratic plan is simply to raise the level of income subject to payroll taxation to roughly $150,000 from the current $94,200, a humongous tax increase. And Democrats are dead set against creating personal investment accounts.
Bush is the world champion of private accounts, and rightly so. They are the only hope for making Social Security solvent without imposing a crushing tax burden on America’s most productive citizens. Bush hinted while campaigning for reform last year–with no help from his timorous Republican allies in Congress–that he’d accept a small tax hike. But even that would have to be accompanied by personal accounts. “If we do not have Republicans and Democrats at the table for entitlements, nothing is going to happen,” Bush said. So nothing is.
Nor is anything meaningful likely to happen on energy. Democrats want energy independence without increasing domestic oil production, an impossibility for the foreseeable future. Bush relishes more domestic production.
On education, Democrats pay lip service to reform. But they’re really reactionaries, beholden to the teachers’ unions. And the unions loathe No Child Left Behind, the president’s signature reform program, because it requires accountability on the part of teachers and local school officials.
The bitter lesson that both Democrats and the far Right are about to learn is that it will be George W. Bush who gets all the credit for the immigration amnesty.