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December 21, 2006
The Common Ground In 2007

George Bush held a press conference today to smooth the way for better relations between Democrats and Republicans in the last two years of his presidency. In a performance that recalled his old promise to be a uniter in Washington, Bush talked about the common ground that could be found between Congress and the White House -- and it has a familiar ring to it:

Eager to show he heard the message of voters who stripped his party of majorities in both the House and Senate in the November elections, Bush said he'll work hard on what he called "an interesting new challenge" — trying to find common ground with Democrats who will lead Congress for the first time in his presidency.

"I don't expect Democratic leaders to compromise on their principles, and they don't expect me to compromise on mine," he said. "But the American people do expect us to compromise on legislation that will benefit the country."

He said initial consultations with incoming Democratic leaders revealed openings for cooperation in several areas. One was an immigration policy overhaul, including a way for some illegal workers to move toward citizenship. That was stymied this year primarily by conservative Republicans who favored a get-tough-only approach.

Other openings Bush saw for cooperation were increased federal spending on alternate energy sources; reform of Congress' appropriations process that has made it common for lawmakers to slip pet projects into spending bills, and giving American workers new skills and businesses help investing in new innovations.

So what do all of these issues have in common? With one exception -- earmark reform -- every one of them envisions increased federal spending. This should surprise few who have paid attention to the last six years; the level of discretionary spending has risen significantly above inflation in each new budget proposed and approved by Republicans. With Democrats and their pro-interventionist policies coming to the fore in 2007, this agenda seems tailor-made for a new era of comity.

The main story is that Bush agreed to increase the minimum wage in exchange for tax breaks and deregulation for the small businesses most likely to be impacted by the change. That didn't please Ted Kennedy, who demanded -- and I quote -- "a clean bill giving them the raise they deserve" after having worked at the current minimum for 10 years. Even beyond the economic idiocy of artificially raising an income floor and creating inflationary pressures that wipe out the buying-power difference, Kennedy's rhetoric demonstrates how disconnected he is from the private sector. The minimum wage is an entry wage, a starting point for workers who would then earn raises through their work and not from government intervention. Anyone who started in 1996 at the current minimum in the same job they have now without a raise in 10 years likely doesn't deserve one.

Ted Kennedy aside, the people who abstained from the 2006 elections as a protest against the big-government Republicanism of the last six years will not likely enjoy the next two, either. Combining the compassionate conservatism/Rockefellerian Bush with a free-spending Democratic Congress will recall the worst of the 1980s without the saving grace of bringing the Soviet Union to its knees via economic warfare. Government investment in alternate energy research may be a good idea on national-security grounds, but the rest of the R&D budget for new innovations in the private sector sounds like corporate subsidies.

I hope Bush restrains his spending habits and tries to rebuild the fiscal conservatism that for a time characterized the GOP. He still might do so, but this press conference does not leave me with confidence for the next two years.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 21, 2006 12:18 AM

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