President Bush took the unusual step, for a sitting president, of releasing an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal last week to announce his hopes of working together with the Democratic majority in Congress “to accomplish important things for the American people.” Good luck.
If he were just starting a term facing a majority from the other party the op-ed might have been a useful gesture. But he has a record of six years in office that have made disdain for the president himself a more significant motivator for the Democratic “base” than any principles or policies. So despite all the happy talk in Washington about a new spirit of bipartisanship, expect a contentious two years.
President Bush still seems to be in denial that the election in November was largely a referendum on the Iraq war and that his side lost. The president still thinks “we now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war,” as he states in the op-ed. He’s the president and commander in chief, so he can implement a new strategy.
But bipartisan consensus seems like a pipe dream.
The notion that a new budget strategy that projects a balanced budget by 2012 will create Democratic enthusiasm for extending the tax cuts he won early in 2001 also seems unrealistic. And the president’s record since 2001 hardly suggests he is an effective practitioner of spending restraint.
There is a chance that widespread public disgust will cause both parties to rein in earmarks – special interest spending that is slipped into must-pass legislation by individual legislators at the last minute. But the likelihood is low of a Democratic Congress giving this president the line-item veto.
As for writing about tackling energy policy, immigration reform and health care, nice try, Mr. President, but Congress is already more focused on how its actions might affect the 2008 presidential race than on any priorities you might express.
But we’re not completely chagrined. Fortunately, gridlock that stymies dramatic government action is not altogether a bad thing.