A Bush Honeymoon in Jeopardy?

December 6, 2004

The AP’s Tom Raum argues (or quotes sources as arguing) that unless President Bush is able to push Congress to pass the intelligence reorganization bill he is supporting, his second-term honeymoon may end before his term begins. A couple of observations on this:

1) I thought honeymoons generally referred to the relative cooperation of the opposition party in Congress for whatever period following the beginning of a presidential term — first or second. In the case of the intelligence reorg. bill, the significant opposition has come from his own party.

2) The Republican opposition to the bill is not driven by those who want to undercut the president’s authority. They are holding the bill up, for now, mainly because they are concerned with the illegal alien issue and they believe this issue is integral to national security. Thus, they don’t believe they’re holding the bill hostage to extraneous concerns, but those that go to the core of national security.

3) Since the relevant opposition is coming from the right, no precedent will be set even if the bill fails — which is a long shot anyway. That is, most presidential/congressional honeymoons are said to be over when the opposition party quits playing nice and rolling over for the president legislatively. Since the relevant opposition is not coming from the Dems it has nothing to do with a honeymoon or lack thereof, much less its duration.

4) Honeymoons, as I understand it, were usually based on the opposition party’s deference following an election wherein the public ostensibly affirmed the president’s platform/agenda. They cooperated for a period not to be nice, but because to do otherwise might get them in trouble with their constituents, a plurality or majority of which voted for the president.

5) I doubt that there is any such thing as honeymoons anymore, given the polarization between the parties. Sure, Ted Kennedy and the Democrats supported the president’s education bill during his first term — but that was because they had such a big hand in it. They didn’t, however, support his tax bill. There was no honeymoon to speak of during his first term, was there? Given the current political climate I think the best chance for a honeymoon would be during a presidential election rather than immediately after it. Though I’m being tongue-in-cheek here, I’m not being completely facetious. After an election Congressmen have another two years before they have to run again and Senators anywhere from two to six years. So they are less likely to worry about the consequences of opposing a popular president that far out than they would during an election year when most of them are running too. Remember how Tom Daschle was Dubya’s best friend during the campaign. He couldn’t mention his name enough in his campaign ads. If the campaign’s weren’t so demanding and draining of every politician and official’s resources, perhaps the campaign year would be best suited for “honeymoon” hankypanky.

6) I think reasonable people can disagree about Congressman Sensenbrenner’s opposition to this bill. I think he and his GOP colleagues opposing the bill are doing so because they believe the provisions they want to add are critical to national security. Thus, attempts to shame them with claims that they are impeding the forward progress of enhancing our security, will fall on deaf ears. Those who say they are doing this for political reasons and subordinating the nation’s security to their political maneuvers are exactly wrong. They doubtlessly believe that unless they draw the line here their concerns will be placed on the back burner for a long time. But it’s also reasonable for people — even those who share Sensenbrenner’s strong concerns over the illegal aliens issue — to want Sensenbrenner and company to back down because they believe the majority of the bill is sound and necessary and needs to be passed, and the other concerns can be resurrected at any time, sooner or later.

7) The debate over this bill among Republicans finally brings to the surface the growing tension between factions on the right concerning our open border’s policy. Many conservatives who otherwise adore the president on most things have been very disappointed and genuinely perplexed about his borders policy. I hope the controversy over this bill brings this debate to light. This is one area that I wish the president would yield more to those concerned about border security, assimilation issues and the like. At some point this issue is going to erupt into the open among various GOP factions and hopefully we’ll see some resolution — some movement from the president.

8) I wish Democrats would quit acting like the “bipartisan” 9/11 Committee were infallible. Just because they studied the issue a good deal does not mean all their recommendations are advisable and does not mean lawmakers need to rubber stamp them. John Kerry, before he’d even had a chance to skim, much less read the committee report, said he’d implement every one of the recommendations. This, from a guy reputed to be an exemplar of deep contemplation and cogitation. I’ve heard some persuasive experts arguing that the type of consolidation among the intelligence agencies that is recommended by the committee and contained in the bill will yield the opposite of the desired results. If some of our problems were our failure of “imagination” — then how does consolidation not lead to more group think and less independent/imaginative thinking? Just something to chew on. But just because some congressmen don’t want to rush to pass the bill doesn’t mean they are impeding our national security. It may mean they are protecting it.

9) Even if this bill fails, it will have no impact on the president’s prospects for success on any of his other legislative initiatives, each of which, in my opinion, will be considered on its merits. So, if this bill fails for now, it won’t put his tax bill or his social security partial privatization bill in jeopardy. They are going to face fierce opposition as it is, but no more and no less as a result of the intelligence bill failing — which I don’t think it will.

10) So completing the circle back to the starting point of this post I conclude that the outcome of the intel bill would have no impact on the president’s so-called honeymoon, even if he were so lucky as to experience one at the beginning of his second term. But the likelihood is that he won’t. Dems are not in a conciliatory mood – and I doubt we’ll see that change. This honeymoon, irrespective of the intelligence bill, was never going to happen, in my humblest of opinions. But I think he’ll still get most of his agenda passed because he probably has a functional majority in Congress following the election, which will render the Dems impotent except on matters they filibuster, like judicial appointments, assuming Frist et al don’t invoke the “nuclear option.”