Conservatives are fearful that in the post-Jeffords period President Bush will tilt to the left, sort of a Nixonian response to the change in the Senate. But so far there is no evidence that this is occurring, at least no substantive, policy evidence. And, of course, Bush first launched a charm offensive around the time of his inauguration when Republicans still had nominal control of the Senate. So his second charm offensive is merely charming but not liberal.
Meanwhile the president himself told an interviewer that while “the landscape has changed, the continent remains the same.” It’s not a bad line and infers that he maintains a conservative majority of southern Democrats and Bush Republicans that nets out to at least 56 votes on key issues on the Senate floor.
So far, so good. Recent pronouncements by his senior staff support the view that Bush is a non-Nixon. Chief of Staff Andy Card told Fox News on Sunday that the president will veto the McCain-Kennedy patients’-rights bill unless liability insurance is strictly limited. Top economic adviser Lawrence Lindsay told the Washington Times that the president anticipates additional tax cuts and full-fledged tax reform in the remainder of his first term. Backing up Lindsay, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill repeated his prior call for corporate tax abolition in a Financial Times interview.
Bush himself on the eve of his trip to Europe called the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty “fatally flawed in fundamental ways” and the president keeps citing large country polluters such as China and India as evidence that the U.S. is on the right track.
Elsewhere on the political scene very little seems to have changed. Speaking for conservative democrats, John Breaux told Chris Matthews on Hardball that, “People who earn the most deserve tax cuts.” And Breaux noted that without presidential support the Patients Bill of Rights is dead. The Louisianan also indicated that new business tax cuts would be tied to a minimum-wage bill in order to defray small-business expenses. Though he didn’t come right out with it, the business lobby in Washington understands that part of a new business tax-cut package will include a lower capital-gains tax rate. Judging from earlier votes there’s a minimum of eight Democratic senators who will cast in favor of lower cap gains and perhaps as many as twelve.
Of course, the Democratic loony Left remains, well, loony left. Investigative initiatives are being promised everywhere. New Mexico’s Jeff Bingaman plans a hearing that would cap electricity prices. Carl Levin of Michigan, when he’s not trashing SDI, has promised hearings on oil-industry profits. Veep-Wannabe Joe Lieberman will probe high-energy prices and attack federal energy regulators. This is great. Jimmy Carter redux. Even worse in the public mind than Jeffords’s Democrats would be Jimmy Carter Democrats. The public is not as stupid as the Democrats think. Gasoline, oil, natural gas, and electricity prices are plummeting. In fact, the entire electricity-price run-up in California has been reversed. Free-market forces are increasing investment and production more rapidly than liberal Democrats can hold hearings. California Governor Gray Davis is now declaring victory. Think of it: After trashing Bush, FERC, ENRON, El Paso Gas, and just about everyone else, it turns out that free-market energy prices are California’s best friend.
So, all in all, Bush is still operating his center-right agenda, still commanding a senate majority, and the so-called Democratic agenda is still an unappetizing liberalism that is completely out of step with a majority of the nation’s voters.
As for that rascal, John McCain, he’s now facing a recall petition in Arizona. What a great story. What a great country.