We are just past the halfway mark in the first 100 days of the term of U.S. President George W. Bush. How is he doing? How is he doing it? What is he changing?
The American people think he’s doing just fine. Sixty percent of the electorate approves of the way he is handling his job as president.
His style of operation is a complete change from his predecessor. As America’s first MBA president, he has installed a businesslike approach to management of the government. He delegates regularly. He is prompt and efficient in meetings. He relishes his free time, going up to the residence before 6 p.m. every evening and taking weekends off.
School is still out on his congressional relations. His “reach out and hug someone” campaign with Democrats and minority members of Congress gets cautious reviews. Republican leaders in Congress override his personal tone of bipartisan amity and cooperation. The recent fast passage of the president’s tax bill by the House of Representatives was achieved by an all-out partisan push for the bill. The president’s trips to the home states of critical Democratic senators in support of his tax plans seems more aggressive than cordial. His turn around on carbon-dioxide emissions (reversing a written campaign pledge) has put members on notice that he can be moved, if pushed, but only from the right.
The president is making a difference in public policy. In the weeks since his inaugural, the administration has systematically gone about the work of making “corrections” in government policy. Congress recently approved a bill reversing regulations for workplace safety that business disapproved. It also approved a massive overhaul of the bankruptcy law to favor banks and credit-card companies. Day after day, things are being changed to reflect the conservative, business-oriented attitudes of the president. It is being done efficiently and thoroughly.
Bush should be encouraged that most Americans endorse his blueprint to cut taxes. Yet they do not seem deeply enthusiastic. Most see the plan as favoring the rich and doing little, if anything, to help average, middle-income people or to stimulate the economy.
House Republicans rushed to pass the tax cuts envisioned by the plan, but the big news was not in the House. It was in the Senate, where 11 senators announced that they would link any future tax cuts to achieving certain levels of debt reduction.
The 11 senators included five Republicans and six Democrats. They said that they are uncomfortable with the size of Bush’s tax-cut package, which the White House says will cost $1.6 trillion over the next decade. They endorsed an automatic mechanism that would suspend tax cuts if debt-reduction targets were not met. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan had mentioned such a mechanism as a practical measure, a so-called trigger. The trigger is adamantly opposed by the administration, however.
The idea of adopting a trigger remains popular with voters. In a poll conducted last month for the Democratic Leadership Council, respondents supported a trigger mechanism by a margin of 65 percent to 28 percent.
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is nearing the end of his first year in office with a visit to Washington.
Mori has been a political disaster for the Liberal Democratic Party that he has so loyally and faithfully served for decades. His approval factor has hit single digits in Japanese polls — the second lowest in history. His principal characteristic seems to be “foot in mouth” disease. He cannot get through a week without committing some verbal faux pas.
As I analyze this past year in Japan, Mori has proven two totally contradictory maxims:
* His tenure has proven that Japan really needs no prime minister. While he has been in office the budget is getting passed on time, Japanese foreign policy has prospered, with some major success on important Russian issues and the economy has fared no worse than under the past three prime ministers. This is a basic tenant of the ruling party: The LDP runs Japan, not any single politician, even the prime minister.
* Mori’s tenure is also proving just how badly Japan really needs a prime minister. Without a central political leader to move its bureaucracy, inspire its electorate and lead its people, the nation has drifted aimlessly into a political and economic morass of unparalleled proportions. The LDP has long neglected many constituencies in modern Japan and, in doing so, it has lost the confidence of the electorate. Its old style, back-room political system has failed and it needs a forceful personality to pull itself and the nation out of the rut. It needs a dynamic prime minister.
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