Newsview: GOP Lawmakers Defect From Bush

The Associated Press
Monday, October 8, 2007; 5:20 PM

WASHINGTON -- While many Republicans are sticking with President Bush on Iraq, more and more are deserting him on domestic issues sure to figure in 2008 contests.

Loyalty on Iraq may even be making it easier for GOP lawmakers _ especially those in tight races _ to break with Bush in other areas. It helps let them off the hook. GOP defections are sure to intensify in the coming months.

Bush does not have to face voters again, but a third of the Senate and all of the House will be on the ballot in just over a year _ and their votes on issues such as Bush's veto of a bill expanding children's health care could come back to haunt or help them.

This comes as polls show Bush's approval rating in the low 30s and Congress' approval rating even lower. A new AP-Ipsos poll put public approval of Bush at 31 percent and Congress at 22 percent.

Earlier, a majority of Republicans broke with Bush on immigration legislation. Also, they didn't go along with his calls to overhaul Social Security, even when they controlled both houses of Congress.

Now, Bush is trying to reach out to the party's base and re-establish his credentials as a fiscal conservative, beginning with his veto of a bill that would boost federal spending for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $35 billion over five years. Bush called the legislation part of an effort to "federalize health care."

Bush also has threatened to veto nine of the 12 appropriations bills that make up the federal budget.

"One of the big lessons from the 2006 election loss was that Republicans have let spending get out of control," said GOP consultant Scott Reed. "I think the White House is focused on a Bush legacy that includes getting spending back under control."

Still, said Reed, "In some states, especially in the Senate races, running against the president on specific issues like this will help the Republican candidate."

Economic and libertarian-minded Republican conservatives suggest Bush's overtures are too little too late to help a despondent Republican party bracing for the possibility that the White House will end up in Democratic hands.

Bush's veto of the SCHIP expansion and other veto threats ring hollow because of Bush's past support for expensive programs like the Medicare prescription drug benefit and his failure to wield his veto pen, said Bruce Bartlett, an economist who was an adviser to Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official during the elder George Bush's presidency.

"Because he was so lax earlier in his term, he has no choice but to overcompensate," said Bartlett. "At the White House, they understand belatedly that they have destroyed the Republican party's reputation for fiscal responsibility. And they are trying to play catch-up."

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