- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

3:41 p.m.

President Bush made nice with Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi after Democrats gave Republicans a trouncing on Election Day, but not before handing House GOP leaders a long legislative wish list for the lame-duck session that they’ll orchestrate.

After a bitter campaign that sometimes got personal between the president and Mrs. Pelosi, the two had a makeup luncheon at the White House. Appearing publicly in the Oval Office after an hour of private discussions, the pair emphasized finding common ground and avoided talk of bedeviling specifics, such as their division over the Iraq war. They took no questions.

Neither Mr. Bush nor Mrs. Pelosi, however, completely ignored that they often disagree.

“When you win, you have a responsibility to do the best you can for the country,” Mr. Bush said, with Vice President Dick Cheney sitting on a couch to his left. “We won’t agree on every issue, but we do agree that we love America.”

“We both extended the hand of friendship and partnership to solve the problems facing our country,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “We have our differences, and we will debate them … but we will do so in a way that gets results.”

Mr. Bush extended the lunch invitation after this week’s election, which will put Democrats in charge of the House and the Senate for the final two years of his presidency. Earlier, after meeting with his Cabinet and Republican leaders from the House and Senate, the president ticked off a to-do list for the current Congress before January’s changeover in power.

It included: spending bills funding government’s continued operation “with strong fiscal discipline and without diminishing our capacity to fight the war on terror”; legislation retroactively authorizing his warrantless domestic surveillance of suspected terrorists; energy legislation; and congressional approval for a landmark civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with India and for normalizing trade relations with Vietnam.

“The next few weeks are going to be busy ones,” the president said in the Rose Garden.

Mr. Bush cast such objectives as a way for both parties to “rise above partisan differences.” However, with Democrats skeptical of many of those items, Mr. Bush’s plea for Capitol Hill to do things his way — which came a half-hour before his session with Mrs. Pelosi — could complicate his effort to reach out to Democrats.

Since Tuesday’s elections, Mr. Bush and Mrs. Pelosi have been pledging to find common ground in a turned-upside-down Washington.

Both sides have much at stake.

The final two years of a presidency are difficult for any Oval Office occupant. In the twilight of power, the president must fight lame-duck status to get anything done.

Mr. Bush is heading into that perilous period after an Election Day that pried his party’s grip from Capitol Hill in voting widely seen as a rebuke of him and his leadership, particularly on Iraq.

That makes his domestic wish list, such as adding private accounts to Social Security and permanently extending all tax cuts passed during his administration, not much more than a fantasy, especially for a president who largely has ignored the same Democrats who will control the legislative agenda.

Add to that the prospect of Democratic investigations into claimed missteps in the war, treatment of terrorism detainees and Mr. Bush’s expansion of executive power, and his next two years could be a headache.

Democrats also have much to lose. If seen as unproductive or too obstructionist, they risk losing their majority — a very slim one in the Senate — in two years. How they govern also could impact the party’s chances in the wide-open race for the White House in 2008.

Hence all the happy talk about bipartisanship.

Mrs. Pelosi, for instance, put any suggestion of impeachment proceedings against Mr. Bush “off the table.” She welcomed the president’s move to accept the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Mr. Bush signaled readiness to consider Democratic priorities such as a federal minimum-wage increase and to find compromise on renewing the No Child Left Behind education law, overhauling immigration policy and overhauling budget-busting entitlement programs.

The two sides remain bitterly divided over Iraq.

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