Daily line "Now, there are some who are second-guessing tax relief. You hear the voices begin to filter out of their home states. I presume those who now oppose tax relief are for raising your taxes. That would tie an anchor on our economy, and I can assure you I won't allow it."
-- President Bush, speaking before the American Legion convention in San Antonio, Texas
As Washington prepares for the fall budget battle, Democratic leaders Tom Daschle and Richard Gephardt sent President Bush a friendly political communiqué requesting a meeting so that the president could "provide specific guidance on how you intend to pay for the additional initiatives that you are calling for."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the New York Times Wednesday the Democrats' letter was "odd" because Bush already had a meeting scheduled with Daschle on Tuesday, and one with Gephardt three days later.
But according to Gephardt spokesman Eric Smith, that was the first Gephardt's office had heard of it. When asked about plans for Gephardt to meet with the president, Smith said, "There are none. The White House said yesterday that there were, but they never bothered to invite us until today. They called today to invite us, but we haven't been able to confirm a meeting yet. They told the press a full 24 hours before they invited us."
Indeed earlier Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan was quoted in a Reuters story saying Bush had no immediate plans to meet with the Democratic leaders, but would "reach out to lawmakers in both parties on the budget."
-- Anthony York
Bush will be back in the White House on Thursday after a month-long stay at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. But the Washington he returns to doesn't look nearly as friendly as the one he left in early August, just after constructing a savvy compromise on the Patients' Bill of Rights, and earning a surprise win on his energy reform plan.
The Democrats have used Bush's summer break to slam the president as a reckless spender who blew the surplus on a $1.35 trillion tax cut. While Bush and the GOP has persisted in defending the cut as an appropriate amount of relief for taxpayers, recent polling indicates that the public is troubled by the lost surplus, and tends to blame Bush and congressional Republicans for it.
The president's vacation itself fueled <a target="new" href="a partisan rhetorical battle. While the White House staff tried to keep a healthy number of public appearances, speeches and other events on the Bush calendar, his political foes hinted that the four weeks away from Washington proved that the president is disengaged and lackadaisical.
As he settles back into the White House, Bush will try to refocus political debate in areas that highlight his "compassionate conservative" agenda, like federal funding of faith-based charities and immigration reform. But he'll have to do battle on the budget first, and the Democrats already have him on the defensive, claiming that the hike in military spending that Bush has demanded would eat into Social Security funds. Concerns about a reemergence of deficit spending have Democrats warning Bush that his ambitious school reform policy could suffer.
Bush insists that Democrats are crying wolf on the budget and are angling for a tax increase, something that Bush has vowed to resist at every turn. He also refuses to back down from his Pentagon budget boost, despite the growing consensus among economists that the increased spending would necessarily eat into the Social Security surplus.
In the last week, Bush's advisors have sought to give the president cover for backing down from his previous promises to leave the Social Security surplus untouched. Democrats intend to make such a reversal as difficult as possible for the president, combing his speeches for examples of his vow never, ever, ever to dip into the Social Security surplus for unrelated spending.
And don't miss perpetual Clinton prober Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., building a reputation as an equal opportunity pest. He's now making demands of Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department to turn over documents related to campaign finance investigations. Burton has threatened to call Ashcroft as a congressional witness if the Justice Department continues to ignore his demands.
Thursday schedule: The president returns to the White House after 27 days of vacation in Texas.
This day in Bush history
Aug. 30, 1994: Republican gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush complains that ads run by his opponent, Texas Gov. Ann Richards, "demean" him. The radio spots feature a voice asking, "That young Bush boy, you know the former president's son. He talks a good game, but has he ever done anything?" Later, the ad declares, "Every business he's ever been involved with had to be bailed out by his daddy's friends. Seems like he always gets to start at the top. Now he expects to do the same thing in state government."
Poll watch: Summer slip
Before he left on vacation at the beginning of August, Bush had experienced a minor rebound in the polls after several weeks of static figures. But two polls have shown his approval rating has slipped during his extended stay in Crawford, Texas.
According to the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, conducted from Aug. 24-26, 55 percent of Americans now approve of the job Bush is doing as president, a minor slip from the 57 percent approval he received in a prior survey. Fox News also shows Bushs job approval at 55 percent in its Aug. 22-23 poll, a four-point drop from the 59 percent mark he achieved in late July.
In early August, a Gallup poll suggested that 55 percent of Americans felt that a month was too long for the president to be on vacation from the White House, and the Bush team responded by scheduling several quick trips for the president during his second week in Texas. But the presidents public schedule diminished considerably in subsequent vacation days.
Both the USA Today/CNN/Gallup and Fox polls have a margin of error of 3 points.
Bush job approval
Down from 57 percent, Aug. 16-19
Down from 59 percent, July 25-26
Down from 52 percent, July 18-22
Up from 54 percent, May 29 to June 3
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Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Alicia Montgomery, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York
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