The president's preemptive strike

If America's ills aren't cured by 2008, it will have been the Democrats' fault.

Published January 3, 2007 2:49PM (EST)

As the Democrats take control of Congress this week, George W. Bush is welcoming them with an Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. The editor's note at the end pretty much says it all: "Mr. Bush is the president of the United States."

Maybe they -- Bush and the Journal's Op-Ed editors -- figure we need a reminder.

Bush begins his welcome by reminding Americans that while he may be a lame duck now, the last throes of his administration will be pretty long ones. He says he'll "have the privilege" of working with the Democratic majority in Congress for the next two years -- "one quarter of my presidency, plenty of time to accomplish important things for the American people." Bush then lays out his list: a strategy that works for Iraq; a plan to balance the budget by 2012 while making his tax cuts permanent; reform of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, immigration laws and healthcare; and progress on energy security. Oh, right, and a presidential line-item veto, too, offered this time around as a way to strike congressional earmarks from budget bills.

It's an ambitious if not particularly specific agenda, and Bush is staking out ground to blame the Democrats when he fails to pull it off. "Democrats will control the House and Senate, and therefore we share the responsibility for what we achieve," Bush writes. "The American people have entrusted us with public office at a momentous time for our nation. Let them say of these next two years: We used our time well."

Yes, let them say that. But also let them ask, "What the hell did you do during the six years when your own party controlled Congress?" A plan that works for Iraq? No. A balanced budget by 2012? Only if you fall for the administration's smoke-and-mirrors approach to budget math. Making the tax cuts permanent? Even tax-obsessed GOP leaders couldn't bring themselves to do that in 2006. Real progress on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, immigration, healthcare or energy security? Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress had six years to do something on these issues, and all they could come up with were handouts to the oil companies and a Medicare prescription drug benefit that will probably cost the country more than three times as much as Bush suggested at the time. Earmarks? More than $71 billion worth of them made it through the Republican-controlled Congress and the Republican-controlled White House in 2006.

Now Bush says it's incumbent on the Democrats to make the sort of progress for America that his Republican colleagues failed to produce. And it is, except that he simultaneously makes it clear that he'll stand in the way if they try to solve the nation's problems their way rather than his. "The Constitution leaves it to the president to use his judgment whether [bills] should be signed into law," he writes. Bush doesn't address any of the proposals the Democrats intend to advance in the first days of the new Congress. There's no mention of increasing the minimum wage, of expanding stem cell research, of enacting the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Well, not specifically. But we're guessing those are the sorts of things the president has in mind when he warns of "stalemate" if the new Democratic majority "chooses to pass bills that are simply political statements."

Maybe this is a good time to remind the president of the "American Values Agenda" the Republican leadership in the House put forward last summer: The Pledge of Allegiance Protection Act, the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act, the Public Expression of Religion Act, the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Some of the agenda became law. Some of it didn't. And then the members of Congress went home early, having put in fewer days of work in Washington than any Congress in the past 50 years.

Can Democrats do better than that? They'd better. Will the president let them? We're not holding our breath.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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