By Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The White House plans to try implementing as much new policy as it can by administrative order while stepping up its confrontational rhetoric with Congress after concluding that President Bush cannot do much business with the Democratic leadership, administration officials said.
According to those officials, Bush and his advisers blame Democrats for the holdup of Judge Michael B. Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general, the failure to pass any of the 12 annual spending bills, and what they see as their refusal to involve the White House in any meaningful negotiations over the stalemated children's health-care legislation.
White House aides say the only way Bush seems to be able to influence the process is by vetoing legislation or by issuing administrative orders, as he has in recent weeks on veterans' health care, air-traffic congestion, protecting endangered fish and immigration. They say they expect Bush to issue more of such orders in the next several months, even as he speaks out on the need to limit spending and resist any tax increases.
The events of recent weeks have "crystallized that the chances of these leaders meeting the administration halfway are becoming increasingly remote," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
Bush himself has been complaining more and more bitterly about congressional Democrats in recent weeks. In a private meeting yesterday with House Republicans in the East Room of the White House, Bush recalled how he had been able to work with Democrats when he was Texas governor and said he had hoped to find the same relationships in Washington.
"He sort of longs for those days, when both sides were genuinely interested in getting along and getting a deal," said Rep. Adam H. Putnam (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Republican Conference, who helped organize yesterday's White House meeting, attended by about 150 Republicans.
The president offered more criticism after the session. "Congress is not getting its work done," Bush said. "We're near the end of the year, and there really isn't much to show for it."
House Democratic leaders fired back at Bush with strong rhetoric of their own. "The president wants the same complacent, complicit Congress that was a co-conspirator in a coverup of what was going on in this country," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).
Both sides have their own political calculations for digging in, with the White House and Republicans seeking to reestablish their credentials as fiscal conservatives and with Democrats concluding that they are on the right side politically on children's health care and other issues.
On some issues, the White House has become increasingly left out of the legislative process. Bush's objection to any tax increases, for instance, has pushed Republicans in the House and the Senate to pursue their own negotiations over an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), concluding that a final bill must include a significant tobacco tax increase to offset its cost.
Even as they offer the president public support, some Republicans on the Hill are hinting that they might break with Bush if the price is right. Asked yesterday whether he could support an SCHIP bill that Bush opposes, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested that is a possibility. "He has his position. House Republicans have theirs," Boehner said.
While Bush castigated Democrats for lack of productivity, congressional Republicans have had their own reasons for moving slowly. On SCHIP, for example, they have said that both sides could reach a deal if the Democratic leadership would slow down and let negotiations proceed.
GOP Sens. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) and Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) personally appealed to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) for a delay yesterday. Reid agreed and asked the Senate to put off consideration of the latest version of the bill to let bipartisan talks continue. This time, Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) objected to the move.
"That makes an interesting statement about the president's press conference this morning, that we just can't get those Democrats to do anything," said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), one of the SCHIP negotiators.