- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

A surprising number of congressional Republicans, concerned about tactical mistakes President Bush has made, say he should get more personally involved on behalf of his own legislative initiatives — especially in trying to keep "weak sister" Republican lawmakers in line on his tax-cut proposal and spending targets.
Some Republicans are saying that Mr. Bush, winding up his first 100 days in office, has relied too little on the power of his own office and too much on Vice President Richard B. Cheney to convince Democrats and reluctant Republicans to support the presidents initiatives on cutting taxes, limiting the growth in government spending and reforming education.
Congressional Republicans who make these observations insist they are not being critical of the president or of Mr. Cheneys role, saying that overall the administration has made an excellent start.
"There is a sense among our members, however, that this president needs to engage more aggressively across the board," said a Republican Senate leadership aide. "At the same time, theres a learning curve for any new president, of course, and this president has not worked in Washington before, so theres no hand-wringing (by Senate Republicans) so far or feeling that the administration is hopeless."
Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, said that he has been impressed with Mr. Cheneys grasp of the issues and that he has done a "tremendous positive service for the president, but probably at some point it would be helpful for the president to get more involved personally, especially in light of what the Senate has done."
Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, New York Republican, said Mr. Bush "needs to make sure the Senate sees how determined he is and that the $1.6 trillion is just right, because, as we saw from the budget resolution vote, if we are not careful, we will find the presidents plan whittled down more and more." Mr. Reynolds was referring to the bipartisan Senate budget resolution passed earlier that called for $1.25 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years — a reduction from Mr. Bushs original $1.6 trillion proposal.
Some Republicans also say that Mr. Bush needs to be firmer with liberal members of his party who are not fully supporting his key initiatives. "He does need to get more personally involved, especially with those timid souls — others call them weak sisters — in the Republican party who appear to have abandoned his agenda," said Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican.
"But it isnt being critical of him to say this," he added.
Two Republican Senate leadership aides confided independently that Senate Republicans remain mystified as to why Mr. Bush turned down an invitation to address the Senate Republican Policy Committee before the crucial pre-Easter vote on the presidents tax-cut proposal.
They also question why he chose not to have liberal Republican senators who often vote with Democrats into the Oval Office for personal one-on-one private conversations to stress the importance of supporting the first big test of Mr. Bushs presidency.
The result was that the Senate Republican leadership failed to get enough votes from fellow Republicans to carry the $1.6 trillion in tax cuts Mr. Bush wanted and had to settle for far less in the Senate budget resolution that finally passed. That resolution also had more spending than Mr. Bush wanted.
"I dont want to tell him how to do his job, but I think its very important that he stand firm and use all the powers of his office on keeping spending in the budget under control," said Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican and head of the House Republican Study Committee.
Mr. Shadegg stresses that on the tax-cut issue, Mr. Bush should meet personally with the "weak-sister" Republican senators to lobby for their support.
Mr. Bush also has been faulted by his supporters in and out of Congress for having taken his case for tax cuts outside the Beltway to communities across the country instead of personally lobbying liberal Republican senators such as Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and James M. Jeffords of Vermont, who ended up siding with the Democrats on the Bush tax plan.
But Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican and Mr. Bushs point man in the House, maintains that "for the first time in a decade, in poll after poll, cutting taxes now is the number one thing people say the federal government should accomplish."
"That is all because of the presidents strategy," he said.
"If his total focus had been on two or three Republican senators, the tremendous popular demand in the country for a tax cut would not be out there," Mr. Blunt said.
He further argued that Mr. Bush "has spent more time than any other president in recent memory developing relationships with members of the House and Senate. Over the long term, that will be very helpful to him as he moves his agenda. But there will be days when the Senate will be as big a puzzle for the White House as it is for the House."
"Im not sure there is always a right or wrong answer as to how to deal with the enigma of the Senate," Mr. Blunt said.
Another criticism some congressional Republicans have made is that Mr. Bush and his team have yet to understand how timing works in Congress.
"The overall consensus among our members is that this White House is there to close the deal but not there to lock in members along the way," said a senior aide to a leading Republican lawmaker. "When you need them to make the final thrust they are there, but not along the way."
The aide also said that the president has relied too much on Mr. Cheney in his dealings with Congress. "Most think he leaned too heavily on Dick Cheney to lobby members instead of using the awesome persuasiveness that a president has."
"Cheney knows that major problems develop unless the president starts early to get members, especially the Rhinos on your side," the aide said. "Its pretty hard to say no to a Republican president. It would make an enormous difference in getting them locked in early."
But Republican lawmakers and aides agree that, criticism and second-guessing aside, its a blessing to have a Republican in the White House after eight years of Democratic control.
"Our members would far rather complain that this president is not engaged enough than have to complain that he is engaged altogether too much — and that his name is Al Gore," said a Senate leadership aide.

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