NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Bush Faces Tough Challenges, Opportunities

December 13, 2000

When George W. Bush becomes president of the United States on January 20, he is going to have a more than usually difficult job to do. No other president in this century will have come to power under such extraordinary circumstances. Among the problems he faces:

  • Many will believe Mr. Bush stole the election courtesy of the Supreme Court, depriving him of stature and legitimacy most voters automatically give a new president, even of the other party.
  • Mr. Bush must cope with a rapidly slowing economy that could very well turn into a recession early next year.
  • Although such a downturn is likely to be brief, it could still have important political implications for the 2002 elections, since the out-party normally does well in such elections anyway, and a recession will make the odds of Democrats recapturing control of both the House and Senate very high indeed.
  • The narrow Republican majorities in Congress and the good prospects for Democrats in 2002, plus the election fallout, are going to make Mr. Bush's dealings with Congress extremely trying.

He could even have a hard time just getting his cabinet confirmed, which could take up much of his time throughout 2001. Democrats will look for ways to embarrass Mr. Bush by rejecting some of his appointees. Lastly, Mr. Bush will of necessity be forced to start planning for re-election in 2004 almost immediately. He will not have the luxury of putting this off until he has had a chance to become settled and get a few political victories under his belt. That is because the Democrats are going to view him as vulnerable right out of the box.

Just about the only bright spot is that in adversity there is opportunity. Mr. Bush will have a very early chance to show whether he has the makings of greatness or whether all the awful things Democrats believe about him are true.

Mr. Bush is going to be under a lot of pressure to water down and abandon his campaign promises, and run a de facto coalition government with the Democrats. Nothing would erode his support among Republicans faster and he should resist the temptation, even though it will inevitably bring the liberal Washington press corps down on him for it.

Mr. Bush's best bet is to be bold and act presidential. He should not abandon things such as his tax cut simply because the odds are long. One of the most important things Mr. Bush needs to do after January 20 is lay the foundation for what undoubtedly will be a very tough reelection fight in four years. Some of the things he should do are these:

  • Fix the military voting system so that our fighting men and women are not disenfranchised, as many were in Florida.
  • Make operational the Supreme Court's Beck decision, which said union workers could not be forced to pay dues for political activities; since union leadership is totally committed to the Democratic Party, despite the Republican leaning of many union rank-and-file, it is essential that Mr. Bush do whatever he can to prevent vast union resources from being entirely dedicated to his defeat.
  • Mr. Bush must put a hold on all pending government regulations and revoke as many of Bill Clinton's executive orders as possible, thus quickly establishing the principle that presidents cannot usurp legislative prerogatives with the mere stroke of a pen, as Mr. Clinton has done so often.
  • To get some early legislative victories, Mr. Bush should have Congress quickly pass some measures that have attracted majority support in the past, only to be vetoed by Mr. Clinton, such as estate tax and marriage penalty relief.

The important thing is for him not to be intimidated by the peculiar circumstances of the 2000 election, and to move with dispatch on his agenda with an eye on 2004.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, Senior Fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, December 13, 2000.


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