Thursday, December 9, 2004

President Bush is quietly seeking support from a growing number of congressional Democrats who would rather work with him than fight him on issues such as Social Security reform.

“I think there are some of us who are willing to work to find solutions to difficult problems,” Rep. Allen Boyd of Florida said. “We can do a better job of working across party lines than we’ve done in the past.”

To the chagrin of Democratic leaders, Mr. Boyd broke party ranks on Tuesday by showing up at a press conference to support a bill aimed at partially privatizing Social Security, a key component of the president’s planned reform. The legislation was written by Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona.

“Look, if you’re going to have meaningful reform, you’ve got to get past this notion that we attack them for every position or idea they float out,” Mr. Boyd said.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan made it clear that the overture did not go unnoticed by the president.

“We certainly appreciate Congressman Boyd, a Democrat, coming out in strong support of fixing this problem,” the spokesman said.

Mr. Boyd is not the only Democrat demonstrating a willingness to work with Mr. Bush just weeks after he and his party trounced Democrats after an acrimonious campaign. On Tuesday, Rep. Jane Harman of California praised Mr. Bush’s leadership after House passage of an intelligence-reform bill.

“It was clear that he and his staff were all over this bill,” enthused Mrs. Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

She was among 96 percent of House Democrats who voted for the bill, compared with just 69 percent of House Republicans.

Meanwhile, the White House announced yesterday that Mr. Bush has asked Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, a Democrat who was also a member of President Clinton’s Cabinet, to stay for a second term. The president also asked several Republicans to remain in his Cabinet.

The announcement came less than a week after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy showed up at the White House to support the president’s reauthorization of a bill providing education funds to the disabled. But the Massachusetts Democrat made no secret of his thorny relationship with the administration on other issues.

When Mr. Kennedy was reminded that in 2002, he showed up at another education bill signing, only to eventually turn against Mr. Bush’s level of funding for the No Child Left Behind Act, he said, “That’s a matter of dispute between the administration and myself. We will have our differences.”

In an effort to minimize those differences, Mr. Bush on Monday invited five Democrats and five Republicans to an Oval Office meeting to discuss Social Security. Despite Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, the president recognizes that he cannot pass reform without the help of at least some Democrats.

“I want to emphasize that the president wants to work in a bipartisan way with all members of Congress who are committed to getting this done,” Mr. McClellan said.

One of the Democrats in attendance was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who has refrained from overtly attacking the president’s plan to reform Social Security.

“I do strongly believe that — as President Reagan did with Speaker Tip O’Neill — that there’s a way for Democrats and Republicans to come together on a solution that would be accepted by the American people,” she said yesterday.

Mr. McClellan sounded cautiously optimistic about the prospects for bipartisan cooperation in the president’s second term. He cited the intelligence-reform bill as a “great example” of such cooperation.

“The president has a record of reaching out, but his arm is only so long — people are going to have to reach back if they want to get things done,” he said. “There are a number of Democratic leaders who recognize that we have a real problem with Social Security.”

Mr. Boyd said the greater onus is on the president.

“It starts with the guy who carries a big microphone; it doesn’t start with me,” he said. “One party controls the White House and Congress, so the responsibility for working across the aisle has to come from both parties — but primarily the one that controls the majority.”

Mr. Boyd, a centrist Democrat, hinted that the president could have worked harder in his first term to reach out to Democrats.

“In the past two congresses, there hasn’t been much bipartisan work on major issues,” he said. “That’s going to have to change.

“I know President Bush is capable of that,” he added. “I’m an eternal optimist.”

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