- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) — (Editor's note: This article, one in a series leading up to the State of the Union address next Tuesday, looks at President George W. Bush's domestic agenda.)

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The U.S. war against terror and the possibility of a conflict with Iraq aren't likely to slow President George W. Bush's domestic legislative agenda, political analysts said.

"I think Bush is shrewd enough and savvy enough and popular enough with the American people that he will be able to get most of his agenda through, but not all of it," said Brad Watson, an assistant professor of political science at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.

Bush is set to step before Congress next week and deliver his State of the Union address as the United States faces a possible war with Iraq, unemployment hovers at 6 percent and the administration continues its pursuit of those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The White House said Friday that Bush views the State of the Union as a moment to talk about the major challenges the nation faces both at home and abroad. On Tuesday, Bush will cover four major issues, according to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

"There will be the economy and creating jobs for the American people," Fleischer said. "It will be making America a more caring, compassionate place. It will be the importance of providing health care for the American people. And it'll also be a focus on security — security both on the home front, the homeland, and national security."

The shape of Bush's proposed Medicare reform emerged Friday as published reports said it would create a prescription drug benefit for patients who choose a new medical program based on managed care.

Last year, Bush's speech focused on the newly forged war on terrorism; this year, his effort to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, homeland security and the continuing war in Afghanistan will likely overshadow domestic issues, political analysts said.

A Gallup poll conducted last week showed that Americans' exuberance about the Bush administration has subsided, and their concern about the nation's economy has surged.

Democrats say they have a better economic stimulus plan that will create 1 million jobs, compared to Bush's proposal that they say will generate 190,000 jobs.

Some of Bush's legislative priorities made it past Washington partisanship in the last congressional session while others remained stalled in the Senate, mired in bickering and disputes over spending in an era of rising federal deficits. Early in the last session, Bush signed into law a $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut and oversaw a dramatic overhaul of public education with his reform package in 2001, both cornerstones of his 2000 presidential campaign. He also succeeded in convincing Congress that the 170,000 workers charged with domestic security needed their own multibillion-dollar, Cabinet-level home, the Department of Homeland Security.

And he soundly rebuked business leaders who refused to be what Bush came to call "good corporate citizens" by signing a law mandating corporate officers personally guarantee information given to stockholders and expanding stock sale blackouts to include corporate officers.

The 108th Congress that convened earlier this month saw a turnover in leadership with Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., installed as Senate majority leader, and Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, leading the House.

Democrats say Bush has not lived up to the promises he has made the American people. States, they said, are buckling under the burden of mounting budget deficits as they try to fund federal education initiatives and welfare programs.

They are also concerned about the inclusion of so-called pro-family initiatives ingrained in the welfare reauthorization bill and in faith-based programs supported by the White House, policy experts said. Women's groups and civil rights organizations have decried pro-family add-ons in the welfare bill that would promote marriage and abstinence.

Analysts say Bush will have little problem getting approval for those somewhat controversial add-ons. They say Bush will get what he wants most through negotiation.

Watson told United Press International that a weak president would not have the success that Bush will enjoy as Congress's new session gets underway. Bush's ability to get consensus for his legislative priorities will emerge from his talent for the art of the political deal. Watson said the president will make compromises on small points within his domestic package but will walk away with the majority of proposals intact.

"He will compromise on the peripheral things, but the central items will go through," Watson said. "He will get credit for that. People tend to remember the accomplishments and forget about the compromises. They forget the package that was delivered is different from the package that was promised."

David Ryden, an associate professor of political science at Hope College in Michigan, has watched Bush's move to incorporate faith-based initiatives into government programs. Ryden said much of what Bush has done has been either by executive order or by changing department regulations to expand funding to include religious groups.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a staunch supporter of domestic policies that provides help for low-income families, children and the elderly, spoke Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington and criticized Bush's policies, saying that the last thing America needed was policies that "divide us at home by race or riches."

"The ideals of America are not realized, but denied by a relentless ideology of tax giveaways for the few, and then even more tax giveaways for the few," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said that in a closely divided Congress, Republicans want more tax cuts while Democrats want more resources for education, health care and other key domestic priorities.

"Instead of seeking a victory of party, both sides should do what's right for the country," Kennedy said. "Together in Congress we should first determine how much we can afford overall, based on the 10-year budget estimates, and then allocate half to tax cuts, including both the president's recent proposal and the portion of the tax cuts already enacted that have not yet taken effect, and the other half to other important priorities. This approach will demonstrate our new bipartisan common purpose for America."

Kennedy spokesman Jim Manley said Republicans and the White House will have to be open to compromise to achieve their legislative goals on domestic issues.

"Unless they are willing to negotiate in good faith they won't have the 60 votes necessary to get much of their agenda through the Senate," Manley said. "We're going to require compromise."

Watson predicts some Democrats will support Bush's call for making his 2001 tax cuts permanent. It was Democrats who balked at Bush's tax package that sent refund checks into the mailboxes of millions of Americans last year. The Congressional Budget Office estimates a $147 billion federal budget deficit in 2003 that Democrats blame on the tax cut.

Manley called the tax cuts a bad idea.

"We can't afford them," Manley said. "There are exploding deficits."

Democrats have put forth their own economic stimulus package, which they call a "fair, fast-acting and fiscally responsible" plan aimed at jumpstarting the economy.

"We talk about infrastructure projects being moved quickly, those that are ready to go to create jobs immediately and to help protect our country," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House's Democratic leader.

Capitol Hill lawmakers were also unable to come to agreement on providing prescription drugs for seniors, on Medicare and Social Security reform, or on making Bush's 2001 tax cuts permanent.

A Gallup poll showed that 54 percent of Americans age 65 and older are satisfied with Social Security and Medicare, while a majority of younger Americans, 62 percent, were dissatisfied.

Manley said the White House could expect a fight if the administration sought to change Medicare.

"Efforts to privatize Medicare will be met with stiff resistance on Capitol Hill," Manley said.

Watson predicts that the White House and Congress will come to some compromise on prescription drugs and Medicare reform, but Worldcom, Enron and other corporate scandals have soured the American public's desire to revamp Social Security with privatized accounts. He does believe Bush will be successful in making his tax cuts permanent.

Manley agreed that Social Security reform is likely off the table.

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