Lame Duck? Bush is the Comeback Kid

Posted: Jan 03, 2008 12:01 AM
Lame Duck? Bush is the Comeback Kid

WASHINGTON -- Well, 2007 was the year when people predicted the economy would be in a recession, the Iraq war was lost and Democrats would be dictating policy to a weak, lame-duck president.

But the U.S. economy is still expanding, racking up nearly 5 percent growth in the third quarter, violence has plummeted in Iraq as a result of President Bush's military surge, the first of American troops are coming home and the Democrats lost all of the major legislative fights of the year. So much for those predictions.

Let's take these one at a time, because rarely has a minority party shown so much unity or beaten an incoming majority so soundly, or a lame-duck president shown more resilience on so many big showdown battles.

Iraq: The Democrats tried repeatedly to tack a troop-withdrawal deadline onto military-spending measures, but could not muster the votes needed to override Bush's veto. Despite the doom-and-gloom forecasts that Iraq was plunging into the abyss, the surge strategy has been a spectacular success.

Last month, the Democratic majority made one more attempt to restrict or even to deny war funding, only to cave in to Bush's demands for a full $70 billion more for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The economy: The naysayers repeatedly predicted throughout the year that we were heading into a recession if we were not in one already. But the economy grew in each quarter, turning in a solid 4.9 percent spurt in July, August and September. The people who saw recession just around the corner never told us how the county could be in a near-recession with the nation at full employment.

We've produced 8.3 million jobs since August 2003 as a result of a record 51 consecutive months of net new-job creation.

The deficit: The people who said if you cut income-tax rates, you reduce tax revenue and enlarge the deficit were wrong again. The Bush tax cuts have stimulated the economy, put more people to work and boosted revenues.

The result is a deficit that plunged $250 billion in the past three years. It fell further last year as a result of $161 billion in unexpectedly higher tax revenues. The American people are not undertaxed as Democrats keep telling us, but that didn't stop them from trying to raise taxes last year.

Tax battles: House and Senate Democrats came up with an energy bill that would have slapped significantly higher taxes on energy companies, driving up energy costs beyond what they are now. After Bush threatened to veto any legislation that raised taxes, Democrats dropped the idea, and the result was a compromise measure the president signed into law.

But Democrats tried to raise taxes again in a bill to keep millions of taxpayers from being hit by the alternative-minimum tax that also included a higher tax on investors. They abandoned that tax, too, in the face of a certain presidential veto, and the bill sailed through.

Terror surveillance: Seeing civil-liberty abuses where there were none, Democrats sought restrictions on a program to intercept communications between terrorists abroad that are routed through the United States. Administration pressure forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi this summer to allow a temporary extension while a compromise could be worked out.

Then there was the Democrats' push to enact an expanded Children's Health Insurance Program, originally targeting lower-income families, which would have made the benefits plan available to upper-income people. The administration pushed back, saying the program should remain focused on the poor and that the bill was a thinly disguised attempt to nationalize health care.

After Bush vetoed their bill, Democrats mounted an override campaign with TV ads, rallies and phone banks that targeted 15 House Republicans in swing districts to force them to change their vote. They didn't, and Bush won that round, too.

The president finished the year by slugging it out with Democrats on the budget. They wanted to boost spending by nearly $25 billion, but the final bill held spending to a smaller increase, and included war funding to boot.

It was a remarkable record of achievement by a president who was all but written off by the pundits as an irrelevant chief executive in the twilight of his last term. But Bush reinvented himself as a veto-happy gunslinger who was not going to be pushed around by Congress -- mounting a nonstop counteroffensive that kept the Democrats in retreat.

By year's end, even his reduced GOP forces in Congress -- who stuck with him through thick and thin -- were surprised by their success.

"A year into 'the wilderness,' our Republican team has scored legislative and political victories that no one -- no one -- could have predicted a year ago," House Republican leader John Boehner said in a memorandum to his GOP troops.

This come-from-behind performance reminiscent of a Rocky movie must have many Democrats thinking, "These guys are going to be harder to beat in 2008 than we thought."