View Full Version : Bush's Agenda Loses Focus

03-19-2006, 12:02 PM
The White House staff has failed to formulate a clear domestic policy, some in the GOP say, and the administration is suffering because of it.

By Peter Wallsten and James Gerstenzang, Times Staff Writers
March 19, 2006

WASHINGTON — A growing Republican chorus is calling for a staff overhaul inside President Bush's beleaguered White House, but some conservatives say such a change would stop far short of fixing what they view as a serious flaw: an unfocused domestic agenda.

The war in Iraq is dominating the attention of Bush and his top aides, these critics say, while the recent departure of the president's top domestic policy advisor after just one year has left the White House without an obvious conductor to direct the sometimes disparate policy-making machine.
"You mean they have a domestic policy?" quipped Michael Tanner, director of health and welfare studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Tanner, an author of the failed Social Security plan that was Bush's No. 1 domestic priority last year, lamented the lack of a "policy czar" setting clear goals. He described the administration as "exhausted" and "rudderless" on the domestic front.

"There doesn't seem to be an endpoint for what they're doing," he said. "They need to decide what they're going to do for the next three years…. Staff changes are necessary but not sufficient. If they're just rearranging chairs and office plaques, that's not going to do anything."

Although Bush first campaigned on a largely domestic agenda, experts either said he had achieved much of what he had set out to accomplish or said he had put aside priorities at home to devote time, energy and government resources to the war on terrorism.

His once-sweeping ideas of giving every young worker a private retirement account as part of Social Security and completely rewriting the tax code have been sharply scaled back. On healthcare, with prices rising and tens of millions of uninsured, Bush's major ideas are creating tax-advantaged health savings accounts and computerizing medical records, hardly the broad overhaul sought by many advocates.

Michael Petrilli, who left the Department of Education in 2005 after four years working on school choice issues, said the administration never settled on an education agenda after Bush's No Child Left Behind Act passed in his first term.

One idea buried in Bush's proposed budget would spend $100 million on a national school voucher program. The proposal might appeal to conservatives still angry over some big-spending elements of the No Child Left Behind plan, but experts said it stood little chance of winning support this year in Congress.

Moreover, the proposed American Competitiveness Initiative laid out in Bush's State of the Union address, aimed at boosting math and science education, has not yet gained traction.

"There doesn't seem to be much of an education agenda right now coming out of this administration," said Petrilli, who is now vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which advocates for school choice programs.

"It's hard to tell what the agenda's going to be for the next couple of years."

The competitiveness initiative was perhaps the most far-reaching new domestic idea in the State of the Union speech, encouraging innovation by putting renewed emphasis on teaching math and science. But, critics say, the push has come from a few lawmakers — not from the White House.

"Somebody really needs to steer it if it's going to happen, but the sense at this moment is that nobody's really steering it," said one GOP lobbyist who works closely with the administration on education issues but spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution from the White House.

Such frustration among domestic policy advocates underscores the range of problems facing Bush. Sixteen months after reelection, his second term has so far been dominated by a drumbeat of controversy and crises involving a range of issues, including ongoing violence in Iraq, the administration's domestic wiretapping program and an Arab firm's bid to manage operations at several U.S. ports.

Bush is facing the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, in the low to mid-30s.

In one independent survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, a plurality of respondents used the word <font color="red">"incompetent"</font color> when asked to describe Bush. In previous polls, the most common word had been "honest."

The ports controversy exposed festering tensions between the White House and once-pliant GOP lawmakers, who rebelled against Bush's push for the Arab firm to manage port operations. Many of those lawmakers are feeling increasingly free to express frustration about the administration's tendency to keep Congress in the dark on important issues.

Many conservatives have openly criticized key Bush initiatives in recent weeks, including a Medicare prescription drug program launched this year has proved complicated, costly and confusing to many seniors.

Last week, several longtime White House allies in the Senate joined with moderate Republicans and Democrats to support allowing the government to lengthen the sign-up period for the drug benefit and to negotiate cut-rate prices with drug companies.

Both votes bucked the White House, signaling concern among Republican lawmakers that the program and other Bush initiatives could spell trouble for the GOP in this year's midterm elections.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) set off fireworks when he said last week that he had "concerns about the team that's around the president." He told the Associated Press: "All of a sudden we're hearing the phrase 'tin ear.' That's a phrase you shouldn't hear. The fact that you're hearing it says that the kind of political sensitivity, the ear to the ground that you need in the White House, isn't there at the level that it needs to be."

Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. has held his job since Jan. 20, 2001. He rises before the sun, arriving at the West Wing ahead of the president. He even sweats with him: Card's weekend routine often includes riding mountain bikes with Bush at a Secret Service training facility or nearby wildlife sanctuary.

No other chief of staff has shown Card's stamina for the job except Sherman Adams, who served President Eisenhower for five years and eight months and established the modern model for the post. On Sept. 22, 2006, Card is to break Adams' record.

Card "is on call all the time," said a Republican senator with close ties to the White House, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about others in his own party. "I don't know how he's done it as long as he has. Is he fatigued? I'd have to say yes."

He added: "The collective group of people who came in have been there a long time, and it's inevitable you become insular…. You don't talk to normal people. You don't go to a Little League game.

"What I would love is some new faces to come in at senior levels," the senator said. "Some fresh thinking would be helpful."

One recent staff change was not planned: the abrupt resignation in February of Claude A. Allen, who for the last year had been Bush's chief domestic policy advisor.

Allen's resignation was a mystery to his colleagues until Maryland authorities charged him two weeks ago with theft of at least $5,000 in goods from Target and other stores in the Washington area. Before then, Allen had begun taking on a more public role, sitting in the first lady's box during this year's State of the Union address and, days before his resignation, briefing reporters on the president's budget plan.

Another lingering distraction in the West Wing is the ongoing investigation into who leaked the identify of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the media. A grand jury continues to investigate Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Bush's closest political advisor and the architect of linking GOP political goals to domestic policy. The inquiry has resulted in the resignation of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was charged with misleading federal investigators.

Strategists close to the Bush White House say Rove is unlikely to leave unless he is forced to by an indictment.

Likewise, Bush, known for his emphasis on loyalty, would be unlikely to ask either Rove or Card to leave.

"I can see them working to make a change," said one GOP consultant with close ties to the White House, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of discussing internal staff deliberations. "But either Karl or Andy has to stay. The trouble is, we don't know what Karl's future is."

Some White House officials and allies wave off the concerns.

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said he sees no evidence that Rove is distracted or tired. "Karl's on top of stuff," Norquist said. "You get your e-mail responses right back."

Moreover, some administration advocates say that work is proceeding quietly on some domestic initiatives.

Officials on the White House's National Economic Council, for instance, convened a meeting last week of conservative think-tank scholars to discuss strategies for expanding the use of health savings accounts, the tax-advantaged savings plans that eligible consumers can use to pay for medical expenses. Advocates view HSAs as a freemarket approach to healthcare, though critics charge that they benefit the wealthiest and least-sick Americans without helping the uninsured.

The White House meeting lasted an hour and a half. "Everyone in the room was energized," said John Goodman, president of the nonpartisan National Center for Policy Analysis.

Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic policy studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, pointed to the $100-million school voucher idea as evidence that the White House was laying some groundwork for future initiatives. The plan, which would create a pilot voucher program in several cities for schools deemed to be failing, would most likely be adopted as part of a new education package next year, she said.

The idea, found in the president's budget proposal, has received little public notice.

"Everyone knows there's very little oxygen in the legislative room this year," she said. "So there's a second tier of what needs to be put out there as a marker, and education is probably happening on that lower tier, which doesn't require headline attention and presidential stumping."

web page (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-disarray19mar19,0,2676970.story?page=1&amp;coll=la-home-nation)

Cueless Joey
03-19-2006, 12:37 PM
He should just resign and let Mrs. Bush take over.
At least, she has a brain.

Gayle in MD
03-20-2006, 07:53 AM
You sure about that, LOL. She can't tell the brake from the gas pedal, and don't forget, she married George Bush, LMAO!

Bush is going down....he'll never get his poll numbers up in an election year when his party members have to think about re-election, and his policies both foreign and domestic, have now been exposed as failures, and Iraq is now in a Civil War.

Gayle in Md.

03-21-2006, 06:10 AM
Iraq has it's problems, but I would hardly call it a civil war. Funny thing is, a recent poll of the citizens of Iraq, 68% of them are positive about the future of their country. I wish I knew what that number would have been 4 years ago.

Gayle in MD
03-21-2006, 07:15 AM
You fail to mention that over 80% want us to get out~! 45% think it is OK to kill Americans. Two thirds say their day to day life was better with Saddam in there. You can deny all you want to Steve, but the reality is that iraq is in a state of Civil War, Alawi said so. You can read all the positive bs that the right news media puts out there, or you can believe an Iraqi, former Prime Minister, friend of the United States....

You wish you knew, why not do some research....??? I think you will be surprised what you will find out.

Washington Post

Old Forecasts Come Back to Haunt Bush

Erosion in Confidence Will Be Hard To Reverse

Jim Vandehei
Washinton Staff Writer
Tuesday March 21, 2006

Three years of upbeat White House assessments about Iraq that turned out to be premature, incomplete or plain wrong are complicating Prtesident Bush's efforts to restore public faith in the military operation and his presidency, according to pollsters and Republiican lawmakers and strategists.

The last two weeks have provided a snapshot of White House opeimism that skeptics contend is at odds with the facts on the ground in Iraq.

Vice President Cheney said Sunday that his 10 month old claim that the insurgency was in its "Last throes" was "basically accurate" and reflects reality. Since cheney's original comment, on at least 70 days there have been violent attacks that in each instance killed more than 10 people. Two weeks ago, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States is making "very, very good progress" -- less than 48 hours before the U.S. ambassador warned of a possible civil war breaking out. And Bush yesterday said his optimism flows in part from success in Tall Afar, a city in northern Iraq, though local residents there said sectarian violence is spreading.

Pollsters and some congressional Republicans said the administration's sunny-side-up appraisals, instead of lifting the public mood, may now complicate the task of sustaining support for a long-term military commitment in Iraq. The loss of trust, they said, is affecting Bush's presidency more broadly, as polls show his public support at a nadir.

Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.) said in an interview that Cheney was wrong about the insurgency being in its last throes and that she sent word to the White House recently to level with the American people about the challenges. "We need to assume that things are going to be very hard because when you do, you plan accordingly," said Wilson. "I am always cautious about always seeing things in the best light because war is not like that" and the public knows it.

Michael Dimock, associate director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, said a recent survey by his group showed the public skeptical toward Bush, about both his administrative competency and his personal credibility. Only 40 percent of respondents said Bush was trustworthy, a 22-point drop from September of 2003, six months after the invasion of Iraq.

dimock said the cumulative effect of the past three years has made Bush's public-relations challenge imposing, and perhaps impossible. "When you give a speech and try to persuade people that they are only hearing the bad and things are going better than the media is saying, if a majority of people say they do no find you trustworthy, it is hard to be persuasive," he said.

Frank Newport of the nonpartisan Gallop polling organization said White House efforts to turn around public opinion are complicated now because Bush is waging the wrong argument. His polling shows a majority of Americans agree with Bush that troops should not be pulled out immediately and that Iraq is better off now and will be in the future as a result of the invasion, two points that president made yesterday. Yet 6 out of 10 said the war was not worth it because, Newport said, the public does not see an upside for the United States. "The focus for Americans is Americans," he said.

Newport, whose survey found a 26 point drop in the number of people who find Bush trustworthy since the 2003 invasion, said Bush can restore his standing on Iraq, on his credibility and on other issues by improving his overal poplarity -- a feat past slumping second-term presidents have found difficult to pull off. The erosion in the public's support for Bush at a personal level is a striking reversal for a president who for most of his first term was described by the public as a strong and trustworthy leader, especially on national security measures.

This erosion in trust is not a new phenomenon for a wartime president, Lyndon B. Johnson's upbeat appraisals of progress in the Vietnam War proved wrong so often that by 1967 commentators spoke of his "credibility gap" with the public, a liability that soon helped push him out of office.

In recent months, Bush has moved to talk more candidly about the problems in Iraq and yesterday said repeatedly that he understood the public's concerns. But it has not stopped his slide in the polls.

There also has been a steady drumbeat of criticism -- from Democrats in particular -- that the administration should have been more forthright about the war and its cost from the outset. There were famous claims by Cheney and others that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators after the invasion. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) a strong supporter of the war said that was true -- to a point. "The same people who cheer when you get rid of someone they hate might not be so happy" when you occupy their country for three-plus years, he said.

Other statements were proved wrong. The weapons of mass destruction the administration said Saddam Hussein possessed before the war have never been found -- and many experts believe never existed. White House officials hammered then-chief economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsay for claiming the war could cost as little as 100 billion, saying the estimate was too high. The actual tally is fast approaching four times that amount, according to the Congressional Research Service, which estimates a 360 billion price tag to date.

Perhaps the most famous roosy statement came nearly three years ago when Bush proclaimed: "We have seen the turning of the tide" under a banner that read "Mission Accomplished." since then, more than 2,300 Americans have died in Iraq.

Gayle in Md.

03-21-2006, 07:43 AM
You fail to mention that over 80% want us to get out~! <hr /></blockquote> No kidding. If they have a positive outlook on their future then they have faith in the system in place and their ability to execute it. No need for the US to stick around. You fail to see both sides.


03-21-2006, 08:40 AM
Nice very long post, but it doesn't address my question...what percent of Iraq felt good about the future of their country 4 years ago as opposed to the 68% that feel good about it today? All those polls are surveys of Americans. Why bother to answer a post when you don't have the answer?

Gayle in MD
03-21-2006, 01:15 PM
My answer was in regard to your denial of the civil war in Iraq. When there are 50 to 60 people being killed everyday, Iraqi against Iraqi, the police force is being overwhelmed, the Army cannot stand on its own, and there is no functioning government, all requirements for civil war are present. Just because the two biggest liars in this country are denying it, doesn't mean it isn't so. Everyone else there, including the Iraqi Prime Minister, says it is civil war.

The polls regarding the Iraqis which I referred to were about Iraqis, not Americans.

As for your supposed question about the expectations of Iraqis, it has nothing to do with the civil war in Iraq. Bush is the last person in the world who would be likely to adddress the civil war in Iraq. He has denied every other mess he has made, why would he change anything now. Fortunately, people who can think, don't believe his lies any longer.

Gayle in Md.
Why post something when YOU don't know the answer???

03-21-2006, 01:23 PM
When there are 50 to 60 people being killed everyday, Iraqi against Iraqi, the police force is being overwhelmed, <hr /></blockquote>When we have people killed the in the US it is not because the police are overwhelmed and it is not the reason in Iraq either. Also, it is not Iraqis on Iraqis. There are terrorists flooding into that country to help them defeat the Americans. Isn't this what you were telling us earlier? Now, it is only Iraqis fighting? Did you get the memo that told all foreigners to leave the country that this was only between Iraqis? Nope, I did not think so, so quit with the lies and embellishments.