Washington Matters


Congress Getting Respect?


Congressional approval ratings remain utterly in the tank -- and could well go lower with the raw public anger over the massive credit markets rescue plan being negotiated this week. But lawmakers are finally winning a little bit of respect from the Bush White House, after years of being disregarded. And, this, just as the administration begins closing up shop and preparing goodbyes.

It's long been the case that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have held Congress in low regard, wanting to expand executive branch powers, being less than fully engaged in many legislative negotiations, digging in their heels on judges and domestic spending, etc.

They've been remarkably successful, too.

President Bush won approval of his signature tax cuts shortly after taking office without really having to compromise with Congress.

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The authorization to start war with Iraq was passed the way the administration wanted in 2002. So, too, has the administration successfully steered huge war spending bills through Congress without conditions.

The USA Patriot Act enabling broader authority for executive branch intelligence gathering was passed largely as sought.

The Medicare prescription drug benefit passed pretty much as the White House wanted, over the cost objections of many in its own party.

And on domestic spending, President Bush has beaten back efforts every year to raise spending levels more than nominally for most discretionary programs except defense. He dug in his heels and won. That's true for fiscal 2009, too, with Congress having just passed a stop-gap bill to keep most spending at current levels.

Bush's frequent use of controversial "signing statements" expressing executive branch interpretation of passed bills has been another way of disregarding Congress.

Now on the Wall Street rescue still being patched together in both chambers, congressional Democrats and Republicans have overruled the administration, dismissing out of hand the larger and more sweeping plan of Treasury Secretary Paulson, which would have granted him alone huge powers and Congress none. A final bill will require bipartisan oversight over management of the plan, restraints on the salaries of executives of firms participating in the rescue, equity positions in some firms being saved, mortgage assistance and perhaps most importantly for taxpayers, a controlled and deliberate dispersal of money ($250 billion at first with more to be decided later).

It's still huge, its ultimate success unknown, and it's being considered in a rushed way, but it's very different from the plan the White House and the Treasury Department originally wanted. They gave a big nod to Congress this time.

Congress understood something big had to be done. So did Bush. And this time, when he signs the historic legislation in a big photo-op ceremony, he'll credit the hard work and meaningful input of Congress, and, in a rare moment for him in the last eight years, the president may actually mean it. 

 



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