Peace Breaks Out in Washington
THE mood in Washington remains surprisingly tranquil, despite a head-on collision between the president and Congress. Mr. Bush won a big round, prevailing in the House of Representatives on his proposal to cut the tax on capital gains, even though the Senate may balk. He even charged Democratic House majority leader Richard Gephardt with personalizing that struggle - a complaint that, accidentally picked up by an open mike, was overheard by members of the press. But no one is mad at anyone. It's almost unreal. By now, nine months into an administration, congressional leaders of the party outside of the White House would be expected to be lambasting the president and his policies. In the past, conflict would be the order of the day. Leading this adversarial charge would be former Speaker Tip O'Neill or, more recently, former Speaker Jim Wright. It would be politics as usual.
Actually, despite the president's view of Representative Gephardt's role in the capital-gains fight, the congressman was expressing his differences with Bush in a most restrained and impersonal way when breakfasting with reporters the other morning. On several occasions, this attractive politician from Missouri spoke of his desire to ``cooperate'' with Bush.
Speaker Tom Foley - who has met with this group of reporters three times since he succeeded Mr. Wright a few months ago - has shown much warmth in his comments about the president. He has known Bush since they were fellow members of Congress. Foley says they have many differences. That's to be expected - after all, the Washington State congressman is considered to be a liberal on a wide array of issues. But he seems to feel he can disagree with his old friend in the White House without being disagreeable.
This doesn't mean there's an end of confrontation in Washington. But an air of peace and good will prevails. Over in the Senate, many Democrats are finding it difficult to launch a biting adversarial campaign against a president that, over the years, they have come to know and like.
Recently, talking to this same breakfast forum, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, who years ago defeated Bush in a race for US senator in Texas, was saying that, while the contest had been hard fought, he and Bush remained friends - and still are friends.
The personable Democrat who heads the House Armed Services Committee, Les Aspin, says that the more conciliatory attitude toward the president among Democrats in Congress is shaped, in large part, by a new public attitude, one that looks down on Congress but which accords the president much respect. ``Anything we do,'' says Mr. Aspin, ``is seen as pork-barrel by the voters. They see politics as our motivation for everything. But they tend to see purity in the President's motives.'' This new public attitude, Aspin adds, leads to an opposition party that is less feisty and combative.
This does not mean, however, that the Democrats in Congress have caved in. They continue to press their positions. And it is arguable that in an atmosphere of friendly persuasion more will be achieved by both president and Congress - and that the American people will benefit.
One Democratic leader conceded the other day in a private conversation that the president had ``swiped'' the Democrat's agenda and that this had contributed largely to the lack of resistance on the part of Democratic leadership.
He was saying that the president had gotten out in front with his arms-control efforts; with his peacemaking initiative in the Mideast, pushed now by Secretary of State James Baker; with his environmental program; with his antidrug proposals.
He said that Democrats differed with Bush on these issues, feeling that he was not going far enough or fast enough - but only in shades of differences that would not be discernible to the voters. Thus Bush, he said, had captured these issues.
So that, too, contributes to a rather passive Democratic resistance that helps shape this atmosphere of relative tranquillity.