On Domestic Policy, Bush Support Lags ; Greenspan's Critique of Tax Plan Deals White House Another Setback
Liz Marlantes writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
In the days following the Republican Party's historic wins in last fall's midterm elections, President Bush seemed so strong politically that White House officials boasted he might have a "second 100 days" to push his priorities through Congress.
But while the president has had some success on his foreign agenda - building support for a possible war with Iraq - he's running into surprisingly stiff resistance on top domestic proposals.
Aspects of his economic stimulus plan - from the elimination of dividend taxes to the creation of new retirement-savings accounts - have met with unfavorable reactions from both Democrats and Republican committee chairmen. Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan registered his disapproval of the cost in Senate testimony yesterday. Likewise, even before Bush's plan for Medicare reform and a prescription-drug benefit was officially released, elements of it ignited such controversy that the administration has scrambled to rework it.
Mr. Bush is promoting his domestic agenda this week and next, pushing his plan for faith-based initiatives and discussing economic proposals. But analysts say he may not get much traction.
For one thing, the Iraq conflict and the terrorist threat continue to consume much of the president's attention. And at a time of foreign crisis, there's often less will - and less cash - for sweeping domestic change. Indeed, some analysts argue the president would have had a hard time selling this domestic agenda, even under the best of circumstances.
"Some of [the trouble] is a reflection of a little bit of overreaching and hubris on the part of the White House," says Norman Ornstein, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "But ... this is an exceptionally sweeping, radical agenda in the teeth of a Congress that doesn't easily have the numbers to make those things happen."
Historically, presidents often see domestic agendas stall amid foreign crises - particularly if they include ambitious reform. Lyndon Johnson's Great Society was thrown off track by the Vietnam War; Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal got mired in World War II.
"During the Second World War, most members of Congress were foursquare behind [Roosevelt]," says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University. "But [on] domestic matters ... he ran into a lot of obstacles."
Since lawmakers from both parties usually support the president on war - unless the war goes badly - that leaves the domestic arena as the only place for the opposition party to draw contrasts and throw barbs. While a number of Democrats supported Bush's tax-cut plan in 2001, most have aggressively attacking his proposals this time around.
Still, it's disagreements with Republicans that are most striking. …