President Bush is ending the year with the approval of just one in three voters, according to the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. But he is enjoying a string of legislative successes in Congress, on matters from Iraq-war funding and the federal budget to energy policy, tax increases and mortgage relief.
Bush aides said they believe they benefited from overreaching by Democrats flush with their 2006 election victory. The White House began the year by laying out a set of relatively modest goals on issues like energy and federal spending. They clung to those goals stubbornly through the year, even as some Republicans in Congress wavered.
White House officials wagered that voters care about concrete results and ultimately would blame Congress, not the White House, if they failed to appear. That made their hard-line negotiating stance more effective as the year wore on.
Democrats became more eager to reach accords on issues such as energy after the Thanksgiving break, administration officials said. Meanwhile, with each victory &
on war funding, on foreign-intelligence wiretapping and on the proposed expansion of a children's health-insurance program &
Republicans on Capitol Hill gained more confidence.
"I leave the year feeling good about our capacity to get some important things done," Bush said at a news conference Thursday morning.
Meeting with reporters this week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats might have raised expectations too high in their attempts to cut off Iraq-war funding. Some top Democrats also said they were surprised that Bush refused to cave in and negotiate a deal on children's health.
Democrats rejected comparisons with the Republican Congress of 1995, which famously overreached in its clashes with the Clinton administration. Democrats also dismissed the White House view that Bush's determination helped congressional Republicans regain their own political footing.
"Here's the problem: When people say they want a change, the reference point is from George Bush," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the House Democratic caucus chairman and a top party strategist. "And now the Republicans have decided to get closer in the photo [to] George Bush. I will pay their cab fare every day for them to go to the White House to do that. I'll rent the bus so the whole caucus can go."
In interviews, White House aides said they are considering a new set of legislative proposals for early next year, aimed at shoring up the economy and perhaps the shaky housing market &
and sweetening voters' sour mood about their finances. The nature and extent of their proposals depends in part on whether the economy weakens. Two possible prescriptions include a new health-care plan and tax cuts.
The president said his administration will "consider all options" to stimulate the economy. He also urged Wall Street banks to record all losses relating to the housing crisis immediately. To tighten wasteful government spending, he said his administration would consider options for overriding some congressional "earmarks."
Democrats say many Republican successes resulted not from the popularity of their positions but from the high procedural barriers to passing legislation in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office this week sent out a list of 62 procedural votes that Republicans had forced in the Senate, contending it is a record.
Democrats also say they enacted five of their six major initiatives &
including raising the minimum wage, passing energy legislation, enacting recommendations of the 9/11 commission, helping make college costs more affordable and opening up stem-cell research.
Bush vetoed the stem-cell bill, but the rest became law. And while Democrats made big concessions on their spending totals, they say they realigned spending priorities within those limits. They also say the children's health issue will return to haunt the White House in the summer when states start to run out of money, and Pelosi said Democrats would be "relentless" next year in seeking to hold the administration accountable on Iraq.
President's agenda on even course