White House, Congress must find the center

Outside editorial

Posted: Monday, August 27, 2001

The following editorial appeared in Sunday's Dallas Morning News:

Early in the Bush administration, speculators suggested that the White House was tacking rightward when appointing conservatives like John Ashcroft and pushing tax cuts as a first issue so the president could turn later to the center. If that was indeed the strategy, then the moment has arrived for the president to define and claim a center-right position.

As President Bush, his family and staff pack up this week and leave Crawford for Washington, they should keep that goal in mind. The GOP's conservative base is not sufficient to deliver victories on Capitol Hill, just as the Democrats' liberal core itself cannot pass legislation.

In recent weeks, the Bush administration has tacked more toward the center, where Mr. Bush lived during much of his Texas governorship. The White House surprised skeptics earlier this month by supporting a federal affirmative action policy. Mr. Bush found a third way on stem cell research. The president staked out a compromise on patients' rights legislation. The administration regularly announces conservation initiatives.

All these moves help, as well as provide good public policy. But Washington's fall agenda presents plenty of difficult choices and challenges for the president. For example, he and Congress must:

Wrap up an education initiative that largely embodies Mr. Bush's desire to give schools more tools and then hold them accountable for their work. Sticking points remain about money, flexibility and measuring students. The right moves in early September would allow both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate a victory that could benefit teachers and students. ...

Finalize a patients' rights bill. The Senate now must approve the compromise the president struck with the House over the placement of lawsuits against managed care. That's no small task. Mr. Bush should not go further on expanding lawsuits, but he still must negotiate with centrist senators to pass this legislation. That should happen soon so Washington finally can move onto more crucial health issues, such as offering tax credits that help small businesses and workers purchase health insurance.

Move forward on trade. The president correctly wants Congress to give him renewed "fast track" authority so his administration can negotiate new trade pacts. But he will have to deal with Democrats who want to include labor and environmental issues in trade talks. ...

Mind the budget. No matter whose numbers one uses, the federal budget does not have the same cushion it did five months ago. The White House will need to press Congress to limit spending at 4 percent annual growth, while also standing tough against Pentagon insiders who want even larger military appropriations. ...

Reform Medicare. ... Without fixing Medicare first, Washington cannot get on with the greater political challenge of giving workers more control over their Social Security contributions.

Of course, Americans also should hold Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to the same standard of producing victories from the center. Mr. Daschle may want to run for president in 2004. And the Senate's leader may have to answer to a more liberal wing of his party. But the public will judge his stewardship of the Senate by the results he produces, not the complaints he generates against the White House. Mr. Daschle is shrewd enough to know that legislative victories come most often from the center. ...

As the fall begins, both parties should remember that America's practical mainstream will reward those leaders who produce policies that make a difference in their lives.

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