What a difference a few weeks make! Less than two months after the Washington Post wrote off the second Bush term as moribund and Bush himself as a lame duck, the Post now joins the New York Times and AP in recognizing that rumors of Bush’s political death are just a wee bit premature:
After years of partisan impasses and legislative failures, Congress in a matter of hours yesterday passed or advanced three far-reaching bills that will allocate billions of dollars and set new policies for guns, roads and energy.
The measures sent to President Bush for his signature will grant $14.5 billion in tax breaks for energy-related matters and devote $286 billion to transportation programs, including 6,000 local projects, often called “pork barrel” spending. The Senate also passed a bill to protect firearms manufacturers and dealers from various lawsuits. The House is poised to pass it this fall.
Combined with the Central American Free Trade Agreement that Congress approved Thursday, the measures constitute significant victories for Bush and GOP congressional leaders, who have been frustrated by Democrats in some areas such as Social Security. As senators cast vote after vote in order to start their August recess, Bush applauded Congress, saying the energy bill “will help secure our energy future and reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.”
To be sure, the GOP did not get everything they wanted. Trent Lott complained that the stripped-down energy bill had lost a lot of its meat. John McCain, predictably (and in this case correctly), complained that the highway bill had picked up far too much meat — pork, to be precise. ANWR drilling disappeared from the energy policy, to be addressed separately after the break.
However, for the first time since Bush’s election, Congress finally passed an energy bill. It passed a highway bill that took months of wrangling. The Senate extended key provisions of the Patriot Act. It also approved protections from class-action lawsuits against gun manufacturers, who looked to be the next target for trial attorneys after having picked the tobacco industry clean. Congress sent CAFTA, a key part of our Latin American strategy to boost economies and relieve economic pressure forcing migration, to the White House over one of the toughest coordinated efforts yet seen on legislation during the Bush term.
And Bush won all of these legislative victories while having the lowest approval ratings of his presidency.
The Post notes that the GOP controls both houses of Congress as well as the White House, and that these victories should be seen in that light. True enough. However, that has not stopped the Democrats from blocking most of this legislation in the past, especially the energy bill and the Patriot Act extensions. The Democrats assumed that with his poll numbers falling and their legislative stall tactics working, Bush would fold his tent and retreat.
That’s what the Post expected, too, at the end of May. Now they realize that they too “misunderestimated” George Bush, to their embarrassment.