George W. Bush seems beset on all fronts. His job rating dipped to new lows after his torpid response to Hurricane Katrina. Casualties continue in Iraq, and some Democrats call for withdrawal now or by a date certain. The Social Security changes he campaigned for earlier this year seem unlikely to be enacted. Proposals to make tax cuts permanent are stalled in Congress -- and stalled proposals sometimes never come forward.
The president's commission on tax reform is soon to report -- but no one seems much interested, and the last major tax reform took a full two years to work its way through Congress. Any proposals now would have, at best, 14 months.
Moreover, the Republican base, which has given Bush stronger support than it gave Ronald Reagan, is now seething with discontent. Spending is too high, fiscal conservatives say, and they add that authorizing $100 billion and up for rebuilding New Orleans is way out of line. Bush's proposals to regularize the status of currently illegal immigrants are decried on talk radio and at town meetings.
The right blogosphere is furious about Bush's appointment of his counsel, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court. They are itching for a fight on principle, convinced they could win in a Republican Senate. By not naming a nominee with bedrock conservative credentials, Bush in their view is flinching from a battle.
But this is a president who responds to challenges with renewed bursts of vigor. In public appearances last week, Bush came out swinging in defense of his Iraq policy and in support of Miers. The Bush White House has not quite given up on Social Security, and top aides believe that House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas still wants to advance a version of individual investment accounts. Bush and the Republican Congress (with some Democratic help) have ground out tax cuts in a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust manner, and may well continue the strategy once the Katrina issues have been settled. The Republican House has already passed all 11 large appropriations bills for the next fiscal year, but there will be opportunity for more cuts when conference committees meet.