Bush's Political Capital Spent, Voices in Both Parties Suggest. - "The term I hear most often is 'tin ear.' "
In the past week alone, the Republican-led House defied his veto threat and passed legislation promoting stem cell research; Senate Democrats blocked confirmation, at least temporarily, of his choice for U.N. ambassador; and a rump group of GOP senators abandoned the president in his battle to win floor votes for all of his judicial nominees.
The series of setbacks on the domestic front could signal that the president has weakened leverage over his party, a situation that could embolden the opposition, according to analysts and politicians from both sides.
Through more than four years in the White House, the signature of Bush's leadership has been that he does not panic in the face of bad poll numbers. Yet many Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the lobbyist corridor of K Street worry about a season of drift and complain that the White House has not listened to their concerns. In recent meetings, House Republicans have discussed putting more pressure on the White House to move beyond Social Security and talk up different issues, such as health care and tax reform, according to Republican officials who asked not to be named to avoid angering Bush's team.
"There is a growing sense of frustration with the president and the White House, quite frankly," said an influential Republican member of Congress. "The term I hear most often is 'tin ear,' " especially when it comes to pushing Social Security so aggressively at a time when the public is worried more about jobs and gasoline prices. "We could not have a worse message at a worse time."
Bush has had a hard time persuading Congress to go along with his agenda, in part because surveys show that much of the public has soured on him and his priorities.
Such weakness has unleashed the first mutterings of those dreaded second-term words, "lame duck," however premature it might be with 3 1/2 years left in his tenure.
"He's not a lame duck yet, but there are rumblings," said Robert Dallek, a presidential historian. Dallek said Bush's recent travails remind him of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who overreached in his second term by trying to pack the Supreme Court, a move that backfired. "Second terms are treacherous, and presidents enter into a minefield where they really must shepherd their credibility and political capital," he said.
Bush started off his second term with a string of important victories, pushing through measures to make it harder to file class-action lawsuits against big corporations and to wipe out debts by filing for personal bankruptcy. Congress passed its first budget resolution in years, largely along the lines of Bush's proposals, and gave him nearly everything he asked for in an $82 billion supplemental appropriations bill to pay for war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(5-31-05, The Washington Post.)