- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

America's political agenda was dramatically changed by the terrorist attacks on the nation's financial and military centers of power, as Congress quickly united behind President Bush and shifted its attention to national security and a new war against an elusive enemy.

National defense, terrorism and airline safety, issues that barely registered in voter surveys of the country's chief public concerns, have zoomed to the top of the charts. Likewise, battles over the budget, tax cuts and whether the government should dip into Social Security have vanished from the political radar screens.

Gone, too, is the escalating political rhetoric from the Democrats attacking the president's fiscal and economic policies, as both parties rallied around their commander in chief's declared mission to put the nation on a war footing to retaliate against "these acts of mass murder."

"There is no question that the agenda ground has shifted in a very dramatic way," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic campaign strategist. "Politics has been suspended for a while."

The political landscape has been reshaped, said Marshall Wittmann, political analyst at the Hudson Institute, a public policy research organization.

"The greatest threat to this country now is not a fiscal one but national security. Defense has now become the No. 1 issue on the minds of Americans. If we can't protect our citizens, the question of whether we are going to dip into Social Security is truly irrelevant," Mr. Wittmann said.

Independent pollster John Zogby said the parameters of partisan debate will narrow over the next several weeks.

"Issues like what happened to the budget surplus and Social Security will be pushed to the back burners," he said. "America is at war right now, and even though it is a nontraditional war, you are just not going to see the level of partisanship that you had over the last decade or two," Mr. Zogby said.

A wide variety of pollsters and political strategists interviewed yesterday agreed with that view.

"For a considerable period of time we are going to have a lot of bipartisan support for Bush's actions," said Andrew Kohut, chief pollster at the Pew Research Center.

That is going to translate into swift congressional approval of the administration's defense spending increases, as well as additional requests for beefed-up resources for intelligence gathering and airline safety, Democrats said yesterday.

The tone for that kind of bipartisanship was set yesterday when House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt and House Republican Leader Dick Armey assembled a joint resolution that condemned the terrorists' actions. A key passage said that both parties were committed "to support increased resources in the war to eradicate terrorism."

"My own sense is that if the president asks for money to fight terrorism, money to beef up intelligence, money for defense, he's going to get it," Mr. Mellman said.

There was also a growing view that the present climate would help Mr. Bush obtain the funds he is requesting for developing an anti-missile system that Democrats have strongly opposed.

Democrats yesterday said that an anti-missile system would not have prevented Tuesday's airline hijackings.

Supporters of the system said that it did not take a great deal of imagination to conjure up a scenario where future terrorists could launch a short-range missile loaded with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.


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