- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

President Bush yesterday boasted of completing "one of the most constructive first six months of any presidency," citing tax cuts, greater bipartisanship and an emerging compromise on a patients' bill of rights.
From almost the beginning of his term, Mr. Bush has asked to be judged on the first 180 days of his administration — instead of the traditional 100 days — because his transition was cut in half by the protracted post-election struggle in Florida. Having passed the 180-day mark last week, the president is now giving himself high marks.
"I feel great," Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. "Listen, I think we've had one of the most constructive first six months of any presidency. And we're making great progress on a lot of issues."
The president acknowledged, however, that he has been forced to compromise on some of those issues.
"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it," Mr. Bush joked. "But dealing with Congress is a matter of give and take. The president doesn't get everything he wants; the Congress doesn't get everything they want. But we're finding good common ground."
In the dark days of the Florida standoff, Republicans and Democrats alike predicted whichever candidate ended up in the White House would be hopelessly hobbled by doubts about his legitimacy and would have great difficulty enacting his agenda. But shortly after former Vice President Al Gore conceded the election, polls showed that most Americans — including Democrats — accepted Mr. Bush as their rightful president.
Against this backdrop of lowered expectations, White House officials are now trumpeting the president's success at enacting much of his agenda. They say it is all the more remarkable in light of the recent Democratic takeover of the Senate and the Republican Party's slim lead in the House.
"The president is very pleased with the progress that the Congress is making on his agenda," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. "That's particularly true if you compare it to progress made by previous presidents in their first years in office."
He pointed out that Congress did not act on any major presidential initiatives in the first six months of the administrations of Ronald Reagan or the elder George Bush.
"President Clinton had to await until the last day of August that Congress was in session for passage of his campaign initiative on the budget, which included a variety of tax measures," Mr. Fleischer said.
By contrast, Mr. Bush has already passed a $1.35 trillion, across-the-board tax cut that most Democrats consider too large. As part of that cut, rebate checks to virtually every American household are already being mailed.
"There is no question that getting his tax proposal through Congress as quickly as he did was an absolutely major accomplishment," said presidential scholar Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution. "In that sense, Ari Fleischer speaks the truth. However, I would probably give the administration an overall B for the first six months."
Mr. Hess said that when Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont quit the Republican Party, Mr. Bush "lost control of the Senate and, to some degree, lost control of the agenda along with it."
He added: "George W. was naive in somehow thinking that Washington was Austin writ large, that somehow his charm and his persuasiveness was going to do wonders with an opposition Congress, as apparently it did in Austin."
Indeed, Mr. Bush now finds himself pushing an initiative that was never a priority during his campaign — the patients' bill of rights. And Congress will probably not heed the president's call to vote before next week's recess on a GOP version of the bill that would limit lawsuits against health providers.
Mr. Bush has been even less successful at enacting his long-range energy initiative, which entails building more nuclear power plants and drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Democrats have managed to portray the president as an enemy of the environment and an ally of the big oil companies.
On the other hand, the president's education bill has been passed by the House and Senate, although the two versions have not yet been finalized for his signature. Some conservative Republicans have complained that the measure caters to the big-spending wishes of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.
There has also been progress on the president's initiative to let religious organizations help the federal government administer social services to the poor.
Known as his "faith-based initiative," the measure has passed the House and is gaining support in the Senate.
Mr. Bush has also succeeded in boosting pay and benefits for members of the military, whose quality of life had declined during the Clinton years. While visiting U.S. troops in Kosovo this week, Mr. Bush was cheered for signing a bill that gives an extra $1.9 billion to GIs.
"I think we've had a pretty good six months, when you think about it,"Mr. Bush said yesterday. "I've signed a lot of legislation."
He added: "I signed tax cuts. I signed some regulatory relief. I am very pleased with the cooperative spirit in the Congress. And I do believe that we can get a good patients' bill of rights."
On the foreign policy front, Mr. Bush this week reached a breakthrough agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to begin talks on supplanting the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with a missile defense shield that would be linked to bilateral cuts in nuclear stockpiles. The surprise agreement forced Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, to retract his accusations that Mr. Bush was alienating Russia by proceeding unilaterally on missile defense.
However, the president has been less sure-footed on other foreign policy initiatives. After initially disengaging from the Middle East peace process, the administration has now stepped up efforts to end the violence.
And after strongly suggesting during the campaign that he would pull U.S. troops out of the Balkans, Mr. Bush has now acquiesced to European demands that the United States not withdraw until its allies do the same.

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