- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

It was highly symbolic that George W. Bush chose to deliver his first official speech as president-elect from the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives. Though he clearly is aware that the Texas Democrats he is used to dealing with are not ideologically identical to the vast majority of the Democrats he will encounter in Washington, Mr. Bush nonetheless pointed to his Texas record of bipartisanship. "The spirit of cooperation I have seen in this hall is what is needed in Washington, D.C. It is the challenge of the moment." Mr. Bush's Wednesday night speech was both conciliatory and gracious in tone after a hard-fought election.

As Mr. Bush embarks upon his transition and prepares to assume the presidency, the conventional wisdom has it that partisanship enveloped official Washington when Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress during the 1994 elections. However, those who equate the emergence of Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House with the onset of partisanship ignore the Supreme Court nomination battles involving Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, which were fought in Democratic-controlled Senates during Republican administrations. Those ugly partisan episodes clearly illustrate that partisanship tends to accelerate whenever one party occupies the White House and the other controls at least one chamber of Congress.

With the Democrats capturing five net seats since the death of Georgia Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell in July, the U.S. Senate is now as closely divided as it can be, a development that will make Republican efforts to defeat a Democrat-initiated filibuster far more difficult than in the past. This will be the stark reality to confront Mr. Bush, in addition to the ever-so-tenuous Republican majority in the House.

This does indeed make it imperative that on several very important issues, such as the reform of Social Security and Medicare, a bipartisan approach will be the order of the day. But on these very issues it has always been understood that a bipartisan approach was the only political option. The biggest difference arising from Mr. Bush's election is that he, unlike President Clinton, is determined to spend his political capital in order to reach a bipartisan consensus.

Mr. Bush stands a good chance in other areas as well. He will likely have a much easier time enacting major planks of his tax cut, such as marriage penalty relief and the abolition of the estate tax, both of which passed Congress this year, but were vetoed by Mr. Clinton. On the national security front, a bipartisan consensus already exists for pursuing a ballistic-missile defense. Mr. Bush's task will be to reorient that consensus toward the more promising and effective sea-based and space-based systems. Both on taxes and national defense, Mr. Bush would do well to emulate the 1981 strategy of President Reagan, who focused on those two issues early and relentlessly.

Still, with all the talk of bipartisanship, Mr. Bush will arrive in Washington with the Republicans exercising control over both the Senate and the House. It has gone largely unnoticed that the 2000 election represents the first time the Republican Party has captured simultaneous control of both chambers of Congress and the White House since Dwight Eisenhower was elected president in 1952. That is an accomplishment worth celebrating. The inevitable political wars will come; for the moment let us savor an achievement that took nearly 50 years to duplicate.

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