- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2005

President Bush’s legislative victories stand to lift his sagging job-approval numbers slightly, but the war in Iraq remains the overriding issue that likely will determine how voters rate him, political pollsters say.

Three major pieces of Mr. Bush’s second-term agenda won congressional approval last week, ending months of political gridlock on Capitol Hill. Among the wins: the Central American Free Trade Agreement, an energy bill aimed at boosting domestic energy production and a transportation bill that supporters say will create thousands of new jobs.

The president hailed the legislative successes yesterday during his weekly radio address.

“Our achievements so far this year show how much can be done when we come together to do what is right for the American people,” Mr. Bush said.

The victories occurred in a week when several reports showed the economy growing at a solid 3.4 percent annual clip, fueled by increasing factory orders, record home sales, a rising stock market and stronger consumer confidence.

But pollsters say that although they expect these developments to help Mr. Bush’s job-approval numbers, it is too early to tell whether the good news will have a significant effect.

The president’s job-approval rating has remained in the mid- to upper-40s. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll last week put it at 49 percent.

“This is not to say that some of these successes in the past week can’t give him a little bit of a bump, but these are not the sorts of things that are dramatic in the eyes of many Americans,” independent pollster John Zogby said.

“People are going to have to feel that energy bill. They are going to have to feel those jobs from the transportation bill. That takes longer than a signing on the White House lawn,” he said. “Whatever the bump may be, I wouldn’t expect more than a couple of points here or there. This administration is all about the war in Iraq.”

A U.S. military commander in Iraq last week said some U.S. forces could begin coming home by next spring or summer if recruitment of Iraqi security forces continues to grow and the political situation there improves.

After those widely reported remarks, Mr. Zogby’s pollsters tested whether “a possible exit strategy has had a chance to sink in,” he said, “but we found it has had no impact at all.”

The Washington Times first reported yesterday that the Pentagon intends to set up a task force of senior U.S. and Iraqi officials to determine conditions for withdrawing substantial numbers of American troops next year.

Mr. Bush also does not seem to have benefited much from a steady improvement in the economic numbers and a decline in the unemployment rate to 5 percent.

“Those economic indicators are not things people follow closely,” said Clay Richards of the Quinnipiac University poll. “What people do pay attention to is the stock market and if [improved economic data] have the impact of picking stock prices up, then the president should benefit. There have been some encouraging signs in the past couple of weeks.”

Mr. Richards added: “People are watching the market more than ever now, because their retirement funds are tied up in mutual funds or individual stocks. It has helped keep Bush’s numbers down.”

However, Republican pollster David Winston argues that the legislative victories eventually are going to help Mr. Bush’s job-approval rating.

“When people actually see the bills signed, it will become more real to them that progress is being made,” Mr. Winston said. “These are significant accomplishments that people wanted, and they are now going to be on the books, and that will help Bush.”

Democrats aren’t seeing much to encourage them in their own job-approval numbers.

“There’s been no advantage to the Democrats. They aren’t scoring points in terms of landing any significant punches [on Mr. Bush] or saying anything meaningful to the American people,” Mr. Zogby said.

Mr. Richards agreed.

“I really don’t see where the Democrats are picking up a point,” he said, “and [Democratic National Committee Chairman] Howard Dean has not helped, either.”

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