Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Jackie Calmes Exhbits a Tinge of Optimistic Naivete

The highly-intelligent but, it appears, slightly naive Jackie Calmes has hopes for bipartisan action in the next two years. George W. Bush, she believes, has every incentive to act like a rational human being in the circumstances in which he finds himself--and that means striking deals with the Democrats that are in the national interest.

The flaw in Jackie's reasoning is obvious: when has Bush every acted like a rational human being?

Campaign Journal - WSJ.com: Pledges of Bipartisan Action

In Congress Look Shaky: WASHINGTON -- In the days since the midterm election, the signs haven't been encouraging for the bipartisan cooperation that both President Bush and Congress's incoming Democratic leaders initially promised for the coming two years. A couple of factors do keep alive some expectations for joint action. President Bush wants to burnish a legacy that otherwise seems destined to be defined by the misadventures in Iraq. And congressional Democrats want to rack up some achievements, both to deliver on their few and mostly unambitious campaign promises, and to show voters they can govern ahead of the 2008 election. Among the possibilities: a federal minimum-wage increase, renewed budget limits, a rewrite of immigration policy, and lobbying reforms.

But even that much will be a big challenge, judging by the post-election maneuvering.... First, the president. Folks in both parties have been looking for signals of whether Mr. Bush will continue to seek his way or no way -- or whether he'll accept voters' rebuke and dust off the more conciliatory governing style of his days as Texas governor. So far, both sides see the old Bush at work. With Republicans still in charge for a lame duck Congress -- Democrats officially take over in January -- Mr. Bush has pushed several issues that Democrats are interpreting as an outstretched hand alright, but "a clear slap in the face," as Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York put it in one instance. The president is again asking the Senate to confirm John Bolton as United Nations ambassador and five controversial conservatives as federal judges, all of whom saw their initial nominations blocked. He is demanding passage of the bill authorizing warrantless electronic surveillance. He renominated the chairman of the agency for U.S. overseas broadcasting, despite a government report alleging misuse of public funds. And he has chosen as a federal overseer of family-planning grants a man hostile to distribution of contraceptives.

Mr. Bush says he will try again to overhaul Social Security, though even with his party in control of Congress, he couldn't get to first base. For any hope of success with Democrats, he would first have to set aside his idea of carving private accounts from Social Security. Then he could call the Democrats' bluff, challenging them to make good on their stated willingness to restore the existing program's long-term solvency. If the two sides then could agree on cost-saving tweaks to Social Security's benefits and tax formulas that both sides know must be made eventually, that would be a huge achievement. It would be one that the George Bush who governed Texas would gladly take for his legacy -- but probably not the George Bush who as president for six years has played to the social and economic conservatives of his party's base.

As for the Democrats, Speaker-apparent Nancy Pelosi's... intervening -- aggressively and ultimately unsuccessfully -- to get House Democrats to elect her ally Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha as the second-ranking Majority Leader.... Mrs. Pelosi mainly acted out of personal loyalty to Mr. Murtha.... But another motivation... was... her desire to elevate Congress' harshest critic of the president and his Iraq policies as House Democratic leader.

Then there are the congressional Republicans. Already they are telegraphing that, once officially in Congress' minority, they will feel little responsibility to help Democrats succeed -- or the president, should he reach some bipartisan deals with the other party. Interviews with House Republicans in town for the lame-duck session elicited nothing short of fury with Mr. Bush for waiting until after the election to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the lightning rod for many voters' dismay with the Iraq war. And the president and his strategist Karl Rove only stoked these Republicans' anger by their suggestions that, more than Iraq, it was corruption in the Republicans' own ranks that cost them their congressional majorities. Even Republicans who accept the corruption rap are angry at this perceived buck-passing by the men in the White House.

Such pique wasn't the cause but certainly was a factor when a significant number of House Republicans helped block approval of a trade pact with Vietnam -- even as Mr. Bush was winging his way to that country in hopes of celebrating the agreement. In the Senate, meanwhile, Republicans narrowly resurrected as their No. 2 leader Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, who openly blames the president and Mr. Rove for engineering his ouster as majority leader two years ago in favor of the hapless and now-retiring Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee. In House Republicans' elections for their leaders in the coming Congress, a common theme was struck by Texas Rep. Kay Granger after her election last week to a lower-level post. Her "one goal," she told colleagues, is "getting our majority back"...

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