It was not that the president was inactive after the election. He telephoned Sensenbrenner and sent Vice President Dick Cheney to see him. But there was no full-court press. "This should be a lesson for the president," a member of the House leadership told me. "Going half-way won't work." At least, it won't work in the second term.
Thus, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, Bush found himself supporting a bill that barely would have passed the House with overwhelming Democratic support and substantial Republican opposition. That would have been a horrible second-term start for the president, and Hastert wisely pulled the bill off the floor.
The last chance for the reform package in the 108th Congress comes Monday when the lame-duck session reconvenes. Sen. Susan Collins, the lead Senate Republican conferee, has called on House Republicans to support their president (audacious coming from a Maine liberal who has consistently opposed Bush's tax proposals) and has declared the conference closed with no more negotiations possible. If she doesn't re-open the conference, the bill may not pass until the Fourth of July. Families of 9/11 victims are staging candlelight vigils to pass the bill, but the effectiveness of such tactics ended Nov. 2.
Even though Tom Kean is again making blood threats if the bill is not passed, waiting until next year to reconsider such a complicated bill may be prudent. Meanwhile, the Bush White House -- which is not high on introspection -- might consider the president's ineffectiveness and think about avoiding these mistakes on legislation he really cares about.