44 Days Until Inauguration Day
President Bush spends the day with Marines at Camp Pendleton in California, arriving at the White House late tonight. The House and Senate are expected to agree to the intelligence reform overhaul hashed out yesterday and then, as the kids say, Audi 5.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton's favorite Albert Einstein quote, insanity is predicting the defeat of George W. Bush's legislative agenda over and over and expecting a different result.
With the presumed passage of the intelligence reform bill in the coming days, those who bet against George W. Bush's achieving the very tough twin acts of Social Security and tax reform do so at their own peril.
You might have thought the farm bill was too expensive and too anti-market.
You might have thought that No Child Left Behind was too big an expansion of control of education by Washington bureaucrats in sandals and beads and/or too expensive and/or underfunded.
You might have thought the Medicare/prescription drug bill went too far -- or didn't go far enough – in expanding a huge entitlement program.
You might have thought it the height of hypocrisy for the President to have strenuously opposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, but then not only champion it in back-to-back elections as a political issue.
You might have thought any and all of these things, but the bottom line -- from any reasonable standard of analysis -- is that this president has almost always found a way to achieve his monster legislative objectives, even when the media, the Democrats, and many Republicans are in woe-is-he/perils-of-Pauline mode.
Chances are that the White House will double back to energy policy and tort reform early in this term (watch for their big touting in the SOTU), but the Big Casino for Bush 43/II will be the aforementioned Social Security and tax reform.
Based on the President's meeting late yesterday on Social Security reform with bipartisan, bicameral leaders, it would appear that trying for changes in that system will be first up, despite, as the Los Angeles Times reports, "House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) want(s) to give higher priority to overhauling the tax code, because 'it was an easier sell,' according to a source attending the private meeting." LINK
And those Republican members of Congress who don't understand that the President is serious about spending political capital and getting stuff done should ask their contacts at the White House what they think of the Bob Walker quote in the same Los Angeles Times story:
"'Many Republicans know the party lacks credibility on the Social Security issue,' said Robert S. Walker, a former House Republican who remains close to GOP leaders. 'For us to wade out there and take that on makes the party politically vulnerable.'"
The White House broke the borrowing barrier yesterday by signaling "how Bush will frame his campaign to persuade Congress to make it possible for younger workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in stocks and bonds," reports Mike Allen in the Washington Post. "The White House has not provided an estimate for the cost of converting to the new system, but outsiders put the figure at $1 trillion to $2 trillion over 10 years." LINK
"McClellan acknowledged that the conversion would be paid for partly with debt, which he referred to as 'up-front transition financing.' McClellan said Bush opposes raising taxes to pay for the change."
"'There will be some up-front transition financing that will be needed to move toward a better system that will allow younger workers to invest a small portion of their own money into personal savings accounts,' McClellan said."
(Paul Krugman hates all this and came off of leave to slam it in a New York Times op-ed. LINK)
"Although it has been widely assumed that Bush's approach to Social Security reform would run up the federal debt, which has reached a record $7.5 trillion, the White House had never before conceded the point publicly," the Los Angeles Times' Vieth and Hook report. LINK
"McClellan said the transition debt should not be regarded as a cost, because it eventually would reduce Social Security's long-term unfunded liability. That is the difference between the level of benefits promised to retirees over the next 75 years and the estimated payroll taxes that will be available to pay them."
Self-referentially, the Washington Times reports that "Mr. Bush quietly has considered changing his original plan from 2 percent to 4 percent for the amount of Social Security taxes that younger workers can designate for private savings accounts. He has been hammering out details and political strategy with reform advocates for weeks." LINK
As for who the Treasury secretary will be who fights to get all this done, various papers predict the demise of John Snow, with Tom Oliphant's must-read Boston Globe column touting the chances of Andy Card to replace Snow somewhat undermined by Card seeming to be Shermanesque yesterday in saying it won't happen. LINK
The Wall Street Journal's John McKinnon, in a must read, sees an imminent departure for Treasury Secretary John Snow, despite an effort by Snow and his allies to figh to keep his job. McKinnon records Card's categorical "no" to speculation that he'd soon be tapped and plows through the rest of the names being advocated, including Bolten and Gramm. McKinnon also writes that GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe's new cosponsor for Social Security private accounts legislation is Florida Democratic Rep. Allen Boyd.
Writes Mike Allen in the Washington Post: "Bush's aides have been telling Snow that they appreciate his work and that they are sorry about all the speculation, while fueling it with tepid endorsements and silence from the president." LINK
President Bush has received rare props of late from fiscally conservative intellectuals in part because his 2005 budget holds down the growth of discretionary domestic spending to near zero.
Writes the Wall Street Journal's David Rogers:
"The gap between high-profile authorization bills -- promising more money -- and the reality of the appropriations process is striking. Lawmakers last month sent the White House an updated version of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, assuming $12.36 billion for special-education programs in 2005 and authorizing steady annual increases reaching to $26.1 billion in 2011. By contrast, the omnibus bill provides about $10.7 billion, or 13% less than the authorization level. Looking ahead, the assumption that Congress can come up with an extra $2.3 billion a year is at odds with the fact that the entire budget for discretionary domestic programs increased this year by only about $3 billion to $4 billion."
In other words, Big Casino had to pare down its jackpots and get rid of some comps.
The Wall Street Journal's Sara Schaeffer Munoz writes on the White House's middle ground on immigration, frustrating both major sides of the issue. (She uses without qualification the datum that 45 percent of Hispanics voted for Mr. Bush, which has been disputed by many involved quarters.)
The Wall Street Journal editorial board screeds against Harry Reid for his Clarence Thomas comments, even as the Washington Post says that Reid's Scalia comments in the same interview sent tongues and hearts on the left and right a' fluttering. LINK
The Ohio secretary of state officially certified the vote Monday where President Bush won by a little less than 119,000 votes, "but an array of Democrats, third-party candidates and independent groups continued to question the results, issuing new demands for a statewide recount and a formal investigation of the vote," write James Dao and Albert Salvato of the New York Times. Meanwhile, Terry McAuliffe announced the Democratic National Committee will appoint an expert panel to review reports of voting problems in Ohio -- like including long lines, voting machine errors and understaffed polling stations. LINK
"If there's a recount, there's going to be two losers: John Kerry and the Ohio taxpayer," GOP attorney Mark Weaver, who represents the Ohio Republican Party told the AP. "It's going to cost more than $1.5 million to find out what we already know." LINK
Green Party Presidential candidate David Cobb contends the $1.5 million figure has been pulled out of thin air.
John Kerry's Friday trip to Iowa (on the way to Idaho!!) is explained (with fabulous John Norris understatement) by Tom Beaumont in the Des Moines Register. LINK
The Secretary of State in Washington state was also busy Monday, ordering a hand recount to settle the outcome of the governor's race between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire. The AP Notes the Democratic Party is shelling out more than $700,000 to fund the recount. LINK
Rick Klein of the Boston Globe reports President Bush and the interim president of Iraq, Ghazi Al-Yawer, are of like mind in insisting that Iraqi elections be held Jan. 30, to deter insurgents and speed progress toward peace and democracy in Iraq. LINK
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has indicated he expects American troops to withdraw from Iraq within four years. LINK
Doug Jehl of the New York Times, who might as well have an office in Langley, summarizes a pessimistic memo from the outgoing top spook in Baghdad. LINK
President Bush announced Gerald A. Reynolds will become the new head of the United States Commission on Civil Rights Monday. The New York Times' John Files reports outgoing chairwoman Mary Frances Berry, "has been critical of his civil rights policies." Bush also designated Abigail Thernstrom to replace Cruz Reynoso as vice chairman. Files Notes, "Last week, Ms. Berry and Mr. Reynoso sent the White House a 166-page report highly critical of Mr. Bush's record on civil rights. A cover letter told Mr. Bush that his civil rights policies 'further divide an already deeply torn nation.'" LINK
The Washington Post's John Harris on President Clinton's vision for the environment as revealed yesterday at an energy policy conference in New York: "Clinton came into power in 1993 less attuned to environmental issues than many other Democrats, including his vice president, Al Gore. Over the course of eight years, however, he came to talk with much more frequency and more evident passion about global warming and other issues. His remarks yesterday were laced with references to that history." LINK
Harris relates that Clinton also offered this bit of history for those writing books about, say, presidential politics over the past 14 years:
"His initial backing of a tax on energy known as the BTU tax, Clinton recalled, caused him to 'get my head handed to me' in Congress in 1993 before he withdrew the proposal. The 'measly' 4.3 cent tax on gasoline that was enacted instead may have been the biggest factor in the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, he said. In 1997, his administration negotiated a global accord in Kyoto, Japan, to reduce greenhouse gases. But amid widespread complaints in Congress that the treaty would put the United States at a competitive disadvantage, Clinton never pushed to win Senate approval. President Bush soon renounced the treaty."
"This history, he suggested, has left both parties in Washington in a mind-set of blame-casting. 'Okay, so Kyoto was not perfect,' he acknowledged, adding that for Democrats 'it's time to stop worrying about whether the current administration will change its mind' and start looking for other ways to address energy-related problems."
A slam dunk on the bestsellers list? LINK