Winnie the Pooh goes to Washington

By Mark Follman
January 3, 2005 8:06PM (UTC)
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In spite of all the hype over the party's sweep of the November elections, it looks like we may see business as usual after all in Republican-controlled Washington -- the business of getting relatively little done.

"With Congress returning on Tuesday," reports the New York Times, "Democrats are promising a fight over Social Security, and some Republicans, fearful that upending such a popular program will hurt them at the polls, are grousing. Cantankerous conservatives nearly killed the measure overhauling the nation's intelligence agencies, and a bill providing prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries before that."


In other words, it's not just a wounded Democratic minority spoiling for a drawn-out fight. But if a fragmented GOP could ultimately pose a bigger threat to legislative productivity, the Bush White House is looking to one of the party's more low-key power brokers to break any broader deadlock: House speaker Dennis Hastert. The former high school wrestling and football coach from Illinois, less of a magnet for criticism than a Tom DeLay or a Bill Frist, may be just the guy to help the polarizing prez push through a sweeping second-term agenda.

"'The most underrated politician in Washington,' Ross K. Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University, said of Mr. Hastert. 'I think he's much like [Thomas] O'Neill. A very, very tough partisan who hides behind a kind of cuddly teddy-bear exterior.'"

Still, the window of opportunity for taming the town's other political animals will be relatively small.


"It will be up to Mr. Hastert to corral his fractious caucus -- quickly, because both sides know Mr. Bush's sway over Congress will erode as the 2006 midterm elections draw near. 'The moment won't last all that long,' said Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican whip. 'If we get any of this done, it will be a great accomplishment.'"

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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