- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

George W. Bush is getting high grades for the way he has conducted himself in the first 100 days of his presidency, both from his conservative base and, surprisingly, from some top Democrats who praise his disciplined style and his executive management skills.

What have Mr. Bush´s Republican supporters cheering are the breadth of the conservative advances he has made in so short a time on his agenda and the largely conservative appointments he has placed in key policy-making positions in the White House and throughout government.

While his core agenda still faces several hurdles, mostly in the evenly divided Senate, there is no doubt on either side of the aisle in Congress that a major tax cut bill close to the level the president originally proposed in his campaign will pass Congress, probably by Memorial Day. Most of his education testing and accountability reforms, with the exception of his school voucher initiative, appear to be generally on track, though they face Democratic obstacles in the Senate. He has moved the pro-life agenda forward in key executive orders, has blocked some major liberal environmental and labor regulation policies from taking effect and is well on the way to putting the finishing touches on a sweeping defense modernization plan.

With polls showing Mr. Bush´s job approval rating at 63 percent following his well-received handling of the U.S. surveillance plane collision with a Chinese fighter jet and the return of the American crew, observers in both parties praise the absence of a learning curve in the Bush administration, of the sort that plagued the Clinton White House´s first two years.

"The Republican base is intact and is wildly enthusiastic about this agenda, and as we head toward the midterm elections, that is going to be very important for Republicans," said former Rep. Vin Weber, Minnesota Republican, who backed Sen. John McCain of Arizona in the Republican presidential primaries.

"It would be difficult to find any faults in the first 100 days of Bush´s presidency. This would range from his appointments, which have been generally very free-market and conservative in their orientation, and the range of positions he´s taken, from opposing the Kyoto global-warming treaty to reversing the ergonomics workplace rule in the Labor Department to his relentless support for tax cuts," said Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, which lobbies for pro-business policies. "And, I would add, a first budget that was relatively tight-fisted on spending.

"It´s been a cozy honeymoon period between conservatives and George W. Bush. The only question I would have is whether this is just a romancing period or will this be standard operating procedure for the next three-and-a-half years," he said.

Paul Weyrich, the social conservative leader, gives Mr. Bush´s first 100 days an A-minus. "It isn´t perfect, but it is far better than I was prepared to expect," he said.

In addition to the president´s conservative appointments and his social agenda that calls for giving grants to faith-based organizations, Mr. Weyrich is especially impressed with "the religious side to him. There is a religious undertone that has not been evident in our presidents in a long time. This is a strong believer."

Even some prominent Democratic strategists who dislike Mr. Bush´s conservative policies give him high marks for the professional level of his executive appointments and the administration´s ability to turn campaign promises into executive actions.

"I think he gets high marks for the style of his presidency, the way he has assumed the organization and discipline of the White House operation and the experienced people he´s brought in," said Leon Panetta, former White House chief of staff to President Clinton.

"On the policy side, they are having a hard time developing a consistent and steady course. I thought he would be able to work together with Republicans and Democrats, and although he´s made some good efforts to meet and greet them, he has yet to show the legislative skills to cut deals and get his major legislation through Congress," Mr. Panetta said.

"I give him an A for management," said William Galston, who was President Clinton´s first domestic policy adviser.

"The administration of the White House staff and the executive office of the president seems to me to be carried out with a high degree of professionalism, efficiency and discipline," Mr. Galston said. "I think it is fair to say that Bush has staffed his administration with people who have served in the White House previously and that has enabled them to achieve a level of sure-footedness in the day-to-day administration that exceeds that of the previous administration in the beginning.

"These are people who understand how the machinery of the executive branch of government works," he said.

Mr. Galston does not accept the news media spin that Mr. Bush will suffer a major defeat if he fails to get the full $1.6 trillion tax cut plan that he presented to Congress.

"If Bush succeeds in exacting a tax cut that is 75 percent of the $1.6 trillion he proposed, one would have to say that that is a political success for the administration," he said. "If you say something is important and you do it, that is a political plus and people are going to say this is a credible group of people."

Republican tax cutters agree with Mr. Galston, saying that Mr. Bush´s base is less interested in his getting the full tax cut than they are in getting a significant chunk of what he has proposed and nailing down a major legislative victory for the party.

"The fact that may not get all of the $1.6 trillion is not important to his base. I believe he will get a substantial portion of his tax cut," Mr. Weber said.

Even a staunch supply-side tax-cutter like Mr. Moore, who has been one of Mr. Bush´s tax-cut advisers, says he cares "more about the policy than about the final overall number, whether it´s $1.3 trillion or $1.4 trillion. But two things we can´t compromise on: bringing the top tax rate down to 33 percent and the death tax repeal."

Some of Mr. Bush´s conservative supporters, however, are not ready to give him a passing grade so early in the first year of his presidency, saying the big tests are still to come on the rest of his agenda. The Senate has passed a budget that substantially breaks his 4 percent cap on spending increases. His faith-based social welfare grant program is stalled, and there has been no movement on his calls for reforming Social Security and Medicare.

"I´d guess I´d give him an incomplete," said Marshall Wittmann, political policy analyst at the Hudson Institute.

"The good news for Bush is that he has nailed down his conservative base. The bad news is that he may have to make significant compromises to achieve legislative results," Mr. Wittmann said.

"The challenge that lies ahead is how does the president advance his legislative agenda without capitulating to Democratic demands," he said.

There is general agreement among Mr. Bush´s political base that the administration has blundered on selling some of its environmental policy decisions.

"I certainly think that in both the energy and environmental areas we need to spend a lot of time thinking about how we talk about those issues," Mr. Weber said.

But on the legislative deals that Mr. Bush likely will have to make to get his tax cuts and the rest of his agenda through Congress, early agreement seems to be forming around his conservative base that they will be willing to accept some compromises.

"They may have to compromise somewhat, but it depends on how it´s done. It depends on whether the compromise seems forced upon him and he had no choice or if it´s a willing compromise," Mr. Weyrich said.

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