Bush's Recent Successes Over Dems Makes Stolberg Fretful

As Bush and the Republicans effectively counterattack against the Democratic majority in Congress, the Times' White House reporter offers some helpful advice - negotiate with the Democrats!

After losing its majority in both the House and Senate in 2006, the Republican Party has been playing surprisingly successful defense against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, aided by skillful Congressional maneuvering and the awakening of the veto power of President Bush. Now the Times, which certainly has the party's best interests at heart. warns that such may come at a cost.

Like her colleague David Herszenhorn did on Wednesday, Sheryl Gay Stolberg'sFriday "news analysis" of Bush, "A Dealmaker He's Not, but Bush Is Getting His Way," warned GOP success may be fleeting and advises more cooperation with the majority Democrats.

The online headline is less sympathetic and more accurately sums up the tone ofStolberg's analysis: "A President Gets His Way, but There May Be a Cost."

"With Democrats beginning to give in to the White House on energy and spending bills, and with their hopes of expanding a popular children's health program all but dashed, President Bush has scored three political victories this week on Capitol Hill.

"As with earlier battles over the war in Iraq, the victories underscore the surprising amount of clout that Mr. Bush still wields against a Democratic-run Congress. Late in his presidency, with his poll numbers stuck at record lows, he has been able to persuade Republicans to stick with him.

"But winning may have come at a price.

"Unlike presidents before him, Mr. Bush has not used the power of the Oval Office to hammer out a compromise with his legislative foes. Instead, he has vetoed bills he does not like, refused to budge on spending limits and let his subordinates do the negotiating - a strategy that has his critics, including some Republicans, wondering why the most powerful dealmaker in Washington is not practicing the art of the deal.

"'I think the president would be well served if he was on the phone, and not just with the Republican leadership, but the Democratic leadership,' said Kenneth M. Duberstein, who was President Ronald Reagan's chief liaison to Capitol Hill. 'What's the harm in listening to their concerns? And don't just call Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, but go to some of the rank and file who are on the fence.'"

(The Times has used Duberstein to criticize fellow Republicans before.)

Stolberg brings out the "even some Republicans" cliché to augment her own anti-Bush arguments:

"Independent analysts, Democrats and even some Republicans say that by distancing himself from Congress instead of diving into the hard work of negotiations, Mr. Bush has deepened the already deep divide between himself and lawmakers, making compromise on other matters, like his long-sought domestic surveillance bill, more difficult.

"When the White House and Congress are at an impasse, these critics argue, there is both symbolic and practical value for a president who appears to rise above party politics by trying to broker a deal.


"Even Mr. Bush's defenders acknowledge that his approach has largely been a my-way-or-the-highway campaign. But they say his victories are proof that his tactics work."


"Mr. Bush likes to say his relations with Democrats are cordial. Just last week, he played host to members of Congress at the White House's annual black-tie Christmas ball.

"But munching on crab cakes and sipping spiced eggnog are not the same thing as hashing out policy, something Mr. Bush, who prefers delegating over details, is loath to do. At a ceremony in the Capitol for the Dalai Lama last month, Ms. Pelosi, the House speaker, and Mr. Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, buttonholed Mr. Bush and asked to meet to discuss their differences on children's health.

"He told them their aides should talk to his health secretary instead.

"Tony Fratto, the deputy White House press secretary, said the bill presented 'an array of very complicated policy questions' that required 'greater technical expertise' than Mr. Bush or lawmakers possess.

"But the episode was a telling reminder that Mr. Bush, who came to Washington as an outsider governor from Texas, has never really learned the cardinal rule of the Capitol: Congress considers itself a coequal branch, and its leaders expect to be treated that way.

"'Bush doesn't like the legislative branch - he never did, and it shows,' said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. 'He's taken a C.E.O. approach to the Hill, which is offensive because people on the Hill want to be collaborators.'

"In the short term, Mr. Bush is winning his tactical fights because Republicans are sticking with him. But the real test of their loyalty will come next year, at election time, when they may be forced to distance themselves from their unpopular president.

"And in the end, if everybody in Washington is fighting, nobody is really winning."

In other words, "nobody is really winning" if Bush is winning.