In final quarter, Bush is no Reagan
The current president signals he's disinclined to compromise with Congress, as Reagan did.
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Now approaching his final year in office, with job-approval ratings in the low 30s, Bush appears to have concluded that the best he can do is shore up the support he does have by emphasizing fiscal conservatism. Last week, when Bush vetoed a popular $23 billion water-projects bill, he knew there were plenty of votes from both parties to override him, but he vetoed it anyway. Before Tuesday, Bush's four other vetoes – two on stem-cell research, one on Iraq, and one on a children's health-insurance bill – were upheld. Of the 11 spending bills pending before Congress, Bush has threatened to veto most.Skip to next paragraph
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"When you have veto fights, the actual spending issue is elevated in the national psyche," says Michael Franc, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation. That, he says, could motivate a discouraged GOP base in the next election.
"If gridlock is the source of discontent, this won't solve it," says Mr. Franc. "But if [Bush's approach] says that there's a big difference between the two parties – one stands for lower taxes, the other stands for the opposite – that choice will be made crystal clear as the '08 election unfolds."
Bush didn't always govern this way. As Texas governor, he worked with the Democratic-run legislature and accomplished much on his agenda. Early in his presidency, he achieved a major bipartisan education reform. But now, in the final quarter, Iraq has depleted his clout.
A pivotal moment came in June, when he sought to pass his No. 1 domestic initiative: comprehensive immigration reform. Bush was always more in sync with Democrats than Republicans on the issue, and the new Democratic majority seemed his last best hope. Ultimately, his own party failed him. Only 12 of 49 Republican senators backed him in the vote to end debate, and the effort collapsed.
"Because their president was so weak, and because of the nature of this campaign, pulling them significantly to the right, they abandoned him in droves," says Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Many Republicans would just as soon have the Democratic Congress be a do-nothing Congress."
The fact that no one from the administration is running for the Republican nomination gives the president less incentive to foster a better working relationship with Congress, some observers say.
"Reagan was not only trying to create an environment in which a Republican could succeed him, but one in which a specific Republican, his own two-term vice president, could succeed him," says Bruce Schulman, a historian at Boston University.
He notes that this is the first election since 1952 when neither a sitting president nor a vice president is seeking the Oval Office. "That does affect the willingness of the president to compromise and work with Democrats and try to create a sense of accomplishment," Mr. Schulman adds. "Bush is trying to establish his legacy not by smoothing the way for his successor, but by clarifying where he stands on things."