WASHINGTON — The Oct. 4 target date for the adjournment of Congress is fast approaching. The top priority for President George W. Bush is to convince Congress to give him some form of support for his crusade against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
What will happen? Well, let’s turn that upside down. Whatever the president asks for on Iraq, he will get in some form. The Democrats will not vote against the president on such a hot foreign-policy issue. They do not agree with the priority he places on this matter. They do not believe that Iraq should be topic No. 1 on the international agenda, but they are not prepared to risk the adverse fallout if something bad happens at the hands of Hussein.
Whatever the president asks for will get stringent review from moderates from both sides of the aisle. There are wise heads on both sides who do not understand the bellicose nature of the president’s Iraq policy and the urgency with which he is pressing for action. They will work together to bring common sense into whatever kind of measure the Senate is asked to consider. Then it will sail through with just a few dissenting votes.
A pending bill to create a new Department of Homeland Security is another story. It has been turned and twisted but it still does not look right to 60 senators. Until it does, it will not be passed.
There is great support for developing a super agency to coordinate the tasks of domestic security. But the development of a management program to deal with it and the unraveling of the strings that enmesh the current lines of authority in the present configuration of the agencies that are being agglomerated into the Homeland Department is a much bigger problem than the president’s people had imagined. There is a goal to get it passed before the Congress recesses in mid October, but do not hold your breath.
There are 13 appropriations bills left to pass as well. This will not be the first time that the federal government ran on continuing resolutions for long periods. Congress has to go home to campaign, and many of the members already have their postelection schedule chock full of foreign adventure. Don’t count on much happening of a constructive nature from the U.S. Congress for the rest of the year.
We have been hearing a lot about how the president’s spin doctors, such as Karl Rove, strive to keep the news focused on the things the president seems to do well — like be a warrior — and off things he seems to do poorly — like run a national economy. They do a good job of this. Hussein is much in the news, but Bush’s pal Ken Lay and other CEOs have disappeared.
So what happened to the polls these past two months as the spin doctors worked their magic? Let’s take a look.
First, how do Americans think Bush is handling his job as president? Well, he has lost those meteoric public-support numbers he had all year and is now running at 63 percent positive and 28 percent negative. That is still great. His dad would have died for those numbers. Before 9/11 he was running 50 percent to 38 percent.
But let’s study these figures more closely. If Rove wants to highlight Warrior Bush, he must think the foreign stuff is the president’s milieu. Unfortunately, the Americans don’t think so. As Bush’s war rhetoric has heated up, the percentage of people who feel he is handling foreign policy well has dropped from 68 percent in July to 54 percent in September. They also think he is a little less effective in fighting terrorism.
And on the economy, he continues to be in the same league with comedian Rodney Dangerfield, getting little respect. He breaks even with 45 percent favorable, 45 percent unfavorable. But there is trouble lurking. In mid-summer the people began to believe “that things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track.” Now that ratio is 43 percent right-track to 49 percent wrong-track — a dip of 20 percent in the positive column in four months. That must be worrisome for the White House as elections creep closer.
So what is Rove to have Bush do? Raise more money.
I remember the very first time I went on a serious weight reduction program. I joined the “Democratic Heavies” in an effort to lighten up through the good offices of George Washington Hospital’s Obesity Clinic. At the end of the first class of instruction the instructor told us not to change our eating pattern during the first week of the program but to record everything we put into our mouth. Wow, I had a ball. My week’s consumption over the New Year’s holidays was astounding and my instructor — hardened by her exposure to true fatties — was impressed. I ate everything in sight and then had seconds.
That is what is happening in the political money-raising game right now. The end of the affair is Nov. 6. That is when the diet starts. The rules change and soft money goes away forever. Both parties are hellbent on setting fundraising records, and then going back for seconds.
The Republicans, with Bush leading the way, are winning the battle. It is likely that between him and Vice President Dick Cheney, the various Republican committees will be more than $200 million richer. Cheney will be the guest in New York later this week at a small event for the Republican Senate Campaign Committee that bills its exclusivity this way:
The fundraiser is open to no more than 60 individuals who give at least $50,000 and to corporations that contribute at least $100,000 to the committee.
This gorging on soft dollars is not a partisan feast. The Democrats are hard at it too, and they are also doing well. Among their best attractions is a former president, Bill Clinton. He will be the star attraction at a concert in Washington next month where tickets range from $75 to $100,000. The proceeds will go to the Democratic National Committee.
This binge is the last time that the parties and their committees will be able to pry unlimited donations from corporations and labor unions. Henceforth, they will be limited to receiving contributions of just $2000 from individuals and $5000 from political action committees. That is a very different world and no one knows how it will work regarding what kind of role the parties will be able to play or how they will impact the candidates and the elections. Only time will tell. And, of course, there are a number of court challenges being made to the new law, and the prohibition against soft money could be held unconstitutional.
The Congress has considered two other election laws as well this past year. One dealt with the financing of elections and that has been passed, signed by the president and is in effect — and is being challenged. The other, dealing with election administration and providing federal support to improve local election machinery has hit another roadblock in the conference committee and may never get enacted.
Election legislation is difficult to craft. Both parties profess to be above partisanship and lily white when it comes to election laws. They want to protect the rights of the citizens to vote and have fair and clean elections. But they also want to make sure that the other side does not cheat, that the other party does not allow ineligible electors to vote. And in all of this, there comes a real conundrum. One side’s protection is the other side’s discrimination.
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