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On the Record

Brookings Scholar Examines Dynamics of Congress’s Relationship with President Bush

Thomas E. Mann

Q: Bush seems to have a free hand now. What do you look for in the coming year?

A: I don’t believe he does have a free hand. He certainly has gained important political leverage with the Congress and one can identify areas in which he will almost certainly prevail, including a number of court appointments and probably additional tax legislation. But on most other things I expect a vigorous opposition.

The year ahead is very uncertain. We don’t know how much it’s going to be dominated by Iraq and the war against terrorism. We don’t know whether the economy will resume a brisk growth pattern or whether there will be consensus on additional stimulus and what that entails. I don’t think we have any sense yet on whether the president will engage the Congress on mega-issues like Social Security and Medicare restructuring and what the consequences of that will be. We don’t even know if an energy bill will be approved.

So yes, the president has gained some leverage, but I think it’s too soon to declare him king.

Q: Is he in danger of what the Democrats went through in 1994 when they controlled the White House and Congress?

A: There’s always the risk of over-reading one’s capacity to achieve legislative ends… Republicans learned from their experience in 1994 and have the advantage of that experience. And the president and Karl Rove together tend to make very sound political judgments. If Democrats are depending on them making critical errors in judgment, then I wouldn’t be too bullish on Democratic prospects.

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