Talking Points by Terry M. Neal
Terry M. Neal's Talking Points

Little Opposition From Party of 'Obstruction'

By Terry M. Neal Staff Writer
Monday, June 20, 2005; 12:01 AM

Washington can seem like a strange place indeed.

This is a place where a president can try to score political points by accusing the opposition party of -- gasp! -- opposing his agenda. This is a place where the opposition party can try to score political points by opposing the president's agenda without offering much in the way of its own vision.

The president is suffering a case of the political blues right now. His agenda on major items such as Social Security, the energy bill, CAFTA (a proposed trade agreement with Central America) and John Bolton's nomination appears to be going nowhere fast. His plan to pack the courts with conservatives was compromised by members of his own party. And his handling of the war in Iraq is increasingly under attack.

To add insult to injury, on Thursday, the House voted to curtail a provision of the Patriot Act that Bush insists is necessary to protect the nation's security.

So much for that political capital he said he gained from his reelection in November.

At a major Republican fundraiser last Tuesday, he declared flatly: "On issue after issue [the Democrats] stand for nothing except obstruction. And this is not leadership."

Sounded good. Certainly the base appreciated it. But if only it were so clear-cut.

The truth is, while Democrats are now offering more vocal opposition to the president than they were in most of Bush's first term, their success in foiling Bush's second-term agenda has come only because Republicans have joined them.

"President Bush's status as a political lame duck is becoming clearer every day," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean in a statement on Thursday in response to a Washington Post story about opposition to the president's Social Security plan among Republicans. "His scheme for Social Security is not only being rejected by voters, but also by congressional Republicans worried about paying a political price at the ballot box in 2006."

There are a few reasons the president is in this situation.

Second terms are always difficult. Bush will never run for president again; and even if it's early in his second term, the party is already anticipating a future without him. Compounding that historical difficulty are Bush's tumbling approval ratings. Bush's approval rating is far lower than any other second-term president at this stage in his term. While Bush remains popular with conservatives, his support among moderates and independents has tumbled. That means many members of Congress who represent either moderate districts or states have little to fear by straying off the partisan plantation.

Despite the obvious defections of Republicans on an array of policy matters, party officials claim the party is maintaining unity.

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