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Jewish World Review Jan. 9, 2000 / 14 Teves 5761

Morton Kondracke

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Bush and Democrats can deal -- IN SPITE of still smoldering bitterness over the presidential election endgame, it ought to be possible for President-elect George W. Bush to achieve some bipartisan legislative successes this year.

There are agreements to be had on education, Medicare reform, patients' rights and even tax cuts if Bush plays his cards skillfully.

That means demonstrating a cooperative spirit with Democratic leaders, then bargaining hard for what he wants, winning over as many moderate Democrats as he can, and caving in only if he has to. For sure, Bush ought to take up a suggestion made by Senate Democratic Leader Thomas Daschle, S.D., and hold regular weekly meetings with top Democrats to keep the lines of communication open.

"There's great benefit to be had in regularized contact," Daschle told me in a recent interview. "It prevents misunderstandings. It gives everybody a chance to clear the air, to ask, 'What did you mean when you said that? Why did you do that?'"

Bush's ability to attract only one or maybe two Democrats into Cabinet-level jobs is one indication that bipartisanship won't be easy. Moreover, it's practically gospel among Democratic activists that Bush's presidency is "illegitimate," handed to him by conservatives on the Supreme Court.

Incoming Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said in a party leaders' conference call in late December, "Let George W. Bush have a good week. Let him have a good inauguration. But we need to give these Republicans the same honeymoon they gave us: none."

African-American Democrats, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, are especially bitter about Bush's victory and are not likely to be mollified by the fact that Bush's Cabinet "looks like America," ethnically speaking, every bit as much as Bill Clinton's did.

Bush's first batch of top-level appointees includes three African-Americans (as many as Clinton's did), six women (one more than Clinton appointed) and three Hispanics (one more than Clinton named).

Among his top-level White House aides, Bush has a female African-American, a white woman and a Latino male. Clinton's original inner circle contained, apart from first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, only white males.

By the definition of some Democrats, no matter how much he demonstrates that he believes in diversity, Bush can't be bipartisan unless he adopts Democratic priorities from the get-go.

That's not true. Bush is best off sticking to his "compassionate conservative" agenda, fighting for it as hard as he can and cutting deals with his base behind him.

Bush has started out sending mixed signals on private-school vouchers, the most controversial item on his education agenda. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer disputed a Washington Post story that said Bush was prepared to drop vouchers in order to get his program passed, but the denial was tepid.

Bush may have to give up that item, but signaling a cave-in upfront only invites Democrats to try to win other concessions. He would be better off taking the suggestion of columnist Matthew Miller and increasing the value of vouchers to parents in failing school districts to an amount that might actually enable them to pay tuition at parochial schools.

Such a plan might help Bush win support from middle-class African-Americans, since most polls show they favor vouchers as an escape from bad public schools.

On Medicare reform, Bush's obvious opportunity for bipartisanship is to back the prescription drug proposal of Sens. John Breaux, D-La., and Bill Frist, R-Tenn., which combines direct subsidies to seniors with administration outside the existing Medicare bureaucracy.

Democrats favor providing drugs through the existing Medicare system, but the Breaux-Frist bill may face more serious difficulty from Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., whose proposal calls for subsidizing private insurance companies and keeping the Medicare bureaucracy.

If Bush is going to cave on anything, it's likely to be his "helping hands" proposal, a temporary block grant to states that makes it easier for seniors to buy drugs while a new federal program gets up and running.

Incoming Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, favors creating a short-term bipartisan commission to iron out Medicare differences.

On taxes Bush ought to push for his full $1.3 trillion package. He has two new good arguments going for it: the rapidly weakening economy that needs a boost and increased estimates of the 10-year federal budget surplus.

Grassley thinks Bush and Congress should enact a broad tax cut by April 15, acknowledging that the president-elect may have to settle for a higher tax rate than his proposed 33 percent and, possibly, less than $1.3 trillion.

However, he ought to try to get what he wants first. He should smile and reach out, but the more he wins, the more Democrats will respect him.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


12/14/00: Will Daschle make it his business to get along with President Bush?
12/08/00: GOP is in danger of ruining record on medical research
11/27/00: Some fascinating stories about how and why people voted
11/22/00: GOP Survived health bullets, but one is left
11/20/00: Can next president and Hill deal?
11/15/00: With nation split, leaders must reach across party divide
11/07/00: The Envelope, Please:Bush Beats Gore, GOP Holds Hill
11/03/00: Parties appeal to two 'gospels'
11/01/00: Lurking in the shadows
10/26/00: What's Gore's Social Security plan?
10/18/00: While Bush, Gore debate surplus, Congress spends it
10/16/00: Two debates leave lots of questions
10/03/00: What questions should be debated?
09/28/00: Gore and Bush should prepare to lead
09/19/00: Bush let values issue slip away
08/25/00: Gore hands center to Bush
08/22/00: AlGore, look to future, not to Bubba
08/08/00: 2000 race could leave high road for low
08/03/00: Convention must point Bush to center
08/01/00: GOP Readies 'Debt Lockbox' As 2000 Strategy
07/27/00: Cheney adds heft to GOP ticket
07/25/00: Foreign, Defense Policy Deserves Full 2000 Debate
07/20/00: Truman Show: Gore Replays 1948, But Bush Isn't Dewey
07/18/00: Bush Must Fight Gore's Drug Plan As 'Bad Medicine'
07/13/00: Mexico's Election Supports U.S. Action On NAFTA, Bailout
07/10/00: Abortion is good for something --- just ask AlGore
07/06/00: Meet Steve Ricchetti, Bubba's secret weapon
06/30/00: AlGore is down, but is he out?
06/27/00: Social programs caught in election-year game of one-up
06/22/00: Congress Is Near Flunking a Test On School Reform
06/16/00: Doting on the grandparents
06/13/00: On Stem Cells, Bush Has Wrong Pro-Life Stance
06/08/00: Has Gore Caught Bush?
05/26/00: PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy'
05/23/00: The secret to winning the election: Economic programs
05/18/00: Gore should regroup
05/16/00: McCain's Support Is Tepid, But Lets Bush Focus on Gore
05/11/00: Voters need wonk training
05/09/00: Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan
04/28/00: Reno's force aids Clinton, not Elian
04/25/00: Should Clinton be indicted?
04/24/00: Can Gore win on Bush tax cuts?
04/18/00: Levin's 'bridge' key to China trade?
04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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