- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2001

The news media here is famous for erroneous forecasts, so its latest hyperventilating predictions that George W. Bush is going to be rolled in the new Democratic Senate should be taken with a large grain of salt.
Remember all those pessimistic predictions in January that Mr. Bush would not get the tax cuts he wanted because of the closeness of his election and the Republicans one-vote majority in the Senate?
Well, the president not only got most of the tax cuts he wanted (even the lower 33 percent top rate when exemptions are factored in), but also the full cost of the plan will probably turn out to be much more than he originally proposed.
If you were to believe the pundits now, Sen. Jim Jeffords decision to desert the GOP and vote as an independent to give the Democrats control of the Senate will doom Mr. Bush to perpetual defeat. The rest of his agenda is toast.
Well, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, may be in for a surprise or two. Things may not turn out exactly the way the liberal news media here hopes they will.
The cold, hard reality is that the ideological makeup of the Senate has not changed. The same 100 senators are still there, and they are going vote more or less the way they did before, no matter who is in charge.
If anything, Mr. Daschle is likely to have bigger problems than Republican leader Trent Lott had getting a majority together over the past four months. Indeed, we saw the signs of that last weekend, when the tax-cut bill passed.
Right after Mr. Jeffords announced his switch in Vermont, whining that the GOP was far too conservative, he flew back to Washington to vote on the tax bill that came out of the House-Senate conference. But the senator who had just made Mr. Daschle majority leader did not vote with him to kill the centerpiece of Mr. Bushs agenda. He voted with the majority to approve it by a vote of 58-33.
For Mr. Daschle, the political handwriting on the wall could be seen in that vote. A total of 12 Democrats count them: 12 deserted their partys anti-tax-cut, class-warfare agenda and voted to enact Mr. Bushs sweeping economic recovery plan.
They included Max Baucus of Montana, Jean Carnahan of Missouri, John Breaux and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Max Cleland and Zell Miller of Georgia, Dianne Feinstein of California, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Robert Torricelli of New Jersey.
Within this band of 12 swing Democrats, the White House is going to be able to pick up enough support to beat Mr. Daschle on a lot of key votes. "We think we have a coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate who are going to be with us on a number of issues," a senior Bush adviser told me.
I think hes right. The next big victory for Mr. Bush will likely be the education bill, which will give the states more flexibility on how they spend federal aid dollars. In return, the states must carry out regular testing so that there will be accountability and results.
There is still much disagreement over money, an issue that has rattled Mr. Bushs conservative base, and for good reason. The voucher provision intended to help parents get their kids out of failing schools is gone, and the experience of the past 30 years is that more federal aid has not produced better education especially in our inner cities.
But whatever sum is eventually agreed to, this bill is going to be a slam-dunk for the president. With education topping every poll as the biggest concern among voters, few senators are going to want to be seen voting against it. And some conservatives are willing to give Mr. Bush a pass on this one because of his huge victory on tax cuts.
Other legislative issues that are due to come up in the Senate similarly favor Mr. Bushs side. There is a broad political consensus for a supplemental defense appropriations bill to improve military morale and readiness. There is also bipartisan support for a bill to boost research and development on a missile-defense system, which most Americans want.
The biggest problem for Mr. Bush, of course, is that the Democrats will control all of the chairmanships, and thus the committees. That means they can send their legislation to the floor and move it to the head of the line for votes. But here, too, Republicans have some weapons in their arsenal to combat them.
Ted Kennedy is readying a minimum-wage bill that will be devastating for struggling small businesses, but Republicans are ready with a slew of amendments to offset the increase by cutting taxes on small business.
Mr. Daschle wants to expand Medicare with new government benefits, but Mr. Breaux and his allies want a more market-oriented, free-to-choose plan to save the program from bankruptcy.
The point is that while Mr. Daschle and the Democrats will run the legislative machinery in the Senate, at least through the 2002 elections, Mr. Bush and a handful of conservative and centrist Democrats could still hold the balance of power on a lot of big votes.


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