- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

President Bush is finishing the year with a string of major legislative victories including tax cuts, missile defense, education reform and increased military spending that, along with his handling of the war on terrorism, has pushed his approval rating to 90 percent.
Overcoming a close, bitterly disputed election count, a divided legislature and a Democratic takeover of the Senate, Mr. Bush has managed to steer the biggest items in his campaign agenda through Congress. Two more House-passed bills are likely to get through the Senate next year, including fast-track trade negotiating authority and an energy bill to begin oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Despite the war and a recession that has wiped out the government's budget surpluses, and stiff political opposition to most of his domestic agenda from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the president has managed to surmount all of these obstacles to gradually carve out a first-year legislative record that is winning plaudits from friend and foe alike.
"You really have to say that on the legislative front these are tremendous achievements which are really quite remarkable for a president who lost the popular vote and where there was no great mandate for his domestic agenda. So, not bad, not bad at all," said Marshall Wittmann, political analyst for the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank.
"I think he's done quite well. I'd give him a B, if not a B-plus. I disagree with much of what he is trying to do, but for all the limited expectations for him, the administration and the Republicans should be quite pleased," said Robert Reischauer, president of the liberal Urban Institute.
"In a sense the terrorist attacks in a perverse way greatly strengthened his position and the perception of his performance. Had the terrorist attacks not occurred, we would be mired in finger pointing over the disappearance of the surpluses and the collapse of the economy would have been pinned quite unfairly on the administration," Mr. Reischauer said.
The president began the year with surprisingly quick passage of his 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax-cut plan, with the help of 12 Senate Democrats, and a bipartisan budget deal aimed at keeping total discretionary spending this fiscal year to $686 billion. Then in late May the White House was hit by a bombshell when Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Party to become an independent and voted to put the Democrats in charge of the Senate. Mr. Bush's agenda ground to a halt as Mr. Daschle moved to slow down or kill any action on the president's legislative proposals.
His faith-based grant program ran into opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike and never recovered. Mr. Daschle pulled the administration's energy bill from committee just when it had the votes for approval, and he told the White House that the trade bill, fiercely opposed by organized labor, would not be considered this year. Negotiations over an education reform bill, which was close to a deal, slowed to a crawl.
Then the September 11 terrorist attacks dramatically changed the political atmosphere in Congress, as partisanship was replaced by a patriotic surge of unity. Democrats who had opposed Mr. Bush's anti-missile system program gave him the full $8.3 billion he had requested. That was followed by action on a $343.3 billion defense bill, approved by both houses Friday, giving the president $33 billion more for pay raises and improved housing and health benefits for military personnel.
Meanwhile, agreement was soon reached on a $26.5 billion education-reform bill that was $4 billion more than Mr. Bush wanted. The House overwhelmingly passed the bill Thursday and it awaits likely Senate approval. Although he did not get the school-voucher funding he sought, and conservatives questioned the value of $8 billion in additional spending, the bill represented a major political victory for the president's campaign pledge to raise student achievement.
"The most important achievement politically was the education bill because it inoculates him on a traditionally Democratic issue." Mr. Wittmann said.
While Mr. Bush agreed to accept more spending than he wanted on the education bill, White House Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., with the help of a presidential veto threat, killed an attempt by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, to add $15 billion in pork-barrel spending to the defense bill.
Outside of the $40 billion in emergency spending in response to the terrorist attacks, Mr. Daniels has thus far kept the lid on the $686 billion budget deal, holding this year's discretionary spending increase to 6.9 percent.
The only other major legislation that remained in limbo was the economic-stimulus bill that ran into a brick wall in the Senate where Mr. Daschle has delayed action for weeks .

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