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Chris Black: Bush faces tough task with Washington Democrats

Chris Black
Chris Black  

CNN Congressional Correspondent Chris Black reports on the challenges George W. Bush faces with the new Congress.

Q: What's ahead for Bush and this Congress?

BLACK: I think the presumption a lot of people have is, "You've got a Republican White House; you've got Republicans in control of Congress. It should be smooth sailing."

Q: Is that going to be the case?

BLACK: No. Even though Republicans have nominal control of Capitol Hill, George Bush faces a lot of obstacles in getting his agenda passed into law.


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The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is only 10 votes. In a body of 435 people, that's insignificant. The Senate is divided equally between the two parties and Dick Cheney as vice president will break ties. But realistically, most votes won't come to a tie.

Democrats have reached a power-sharing agreement with Republicans in the Senate, so they have equal numbers on all committees and equal resources. What that tells you is there is going to be a need for bipartisanship. The question is whether it can happen given the recent history of Capitol Hill.

Q: How divided are Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill?

BLACK: Ever since Republicans took control of the House after the 1994 election, there has been a growing partisanship reflecting an enormous philosophical divide. Republicans have become a much more conservative party in recent years and Democrats have become increasingly liberal.

Both parties see the world in different ways, and bridging that is a lot easier said than done.

George W. Bush often speaks about his experiences with Democrats in Texas, which was very positive. The problem is Democrats in Washington are very different from Democrats in Texas. They are much more liberal. They are much more partisan. They have a whole different agenda.

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Bush has a real challenge with finding a common ground with many of the Washington Democrats.

Q: So, Bush's campaign theme of being a "uniter, not a divider" is going to get put to the test?

BLACK: No question. It's going to be put to an enormous test.

There is great agreement among both parties as to what the issues are: education, a prescription drug benefit for seniors, a patients' bill of rights, HMO reform, Medicare and Social Security reform.

But the two parties have dramatically different approaches. Republicans tend to want to let the private business sector control things and have a reduced government role. Democrats take the opposite view. How they reach that accommodation is very much questionable.

Q: What sort of compromises will Bush likely have to make to get his legislative agenda through Congress?

BLACK: I think it's safe to say that virtually every item on George Bush's agenda will have to be compromised before it becomes law.

On education, there are a lot of areas of agreement between the two parties. Ted Kennedy, who is the most liberal Democrat you can find, has already reached out to the incoming education secretary, Rod Paige, and said he wants to work with Paige on expanding literacy programs. This is something the president-elect feels strongly about; Ted Kennedy feels strongly about. They'll work out some kind of deal on that.

On school vouchers though, it's a non-starter. The Democrats will not consider school voucher legislation. Period. It's just not going to happen.

On taxes, Democrats are in favor of tax cuts, but they will not swallow and will not consider the huge $1.3 trillion tax cut proposed by George W. Bush. They will not even accept the outright repeal of the estate tax or the marriage penalty repeal. They will support some variation of those . but go no further.

On every issue, there's going to have to be some compromise on both sides.

Q: What challenges does Bush face from within the Republican Party?

BLACK: The first problem Bush faces is that he needs to keep his conservative base happy. On Capitol Hill, in both the House and Senate, the dominant philosophy in the Republican caucuses is conservative.

That's his first challenge: How do you keep the conservatives happy, while reaching out to the liberal Democrats to find common ground?

The second problem he has from within his party is John McCain.

McCain, who was his rival for the presidential nomination, will propose his own campaign-finance bill as early as Monday. It won't come to the floor right away, but he's going to make the proposal. He wants to bring it to the floor sooner rather than later.

Bush does not support McCain's campaign-finance bill. So, this is again something that will divert attention away from the Bush agenda and also bog Congress down in partisan bickering. Nothing affects legislators more than campaign finance.


Saturday, January 20, 2001



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