A grudging partnership

November 10, 2006

President Bush was at the very end of a post-election news conference called to offer the olive branch of cooperation to victorious Democrats when he was asked whether immigration reform might make a good joint project.

His somber mood instantly brightened, and he apologized for not mentioning it himself. "I think we have a good chance" to pass broad immigration legislation, he said.

In fact, resolving the highly contentious issues involved in moving 12 million illegal aliens out of the shadows and on the path to citizenship appears to be the most likely major achievement within Mr. Bush's grasp during his last two years in office. With Democrats in control of the House and Senate, the president will find more support for his comprehensive approach to stemming the tide of illegal immigration than he had in the Republican-run Congress.

Winning agreement remains far from easy, but the major obstacle to Mr. Bush's approach - a Republican-led House interested only in tightening border security and imposing legal penalties on anyone who aids illegals - has been removed. The president should put immigration reform at the top of his agenda.

In other areas, ground for compromise seems less evident. Mr. Bush and Democratic leaders both speak of promoting new energy sources, but the Democrats want to finance them by ending tax breaks to oil companies - not usually a Republican notion.

The president also said he wants to start a dialogue on how to make good on the promised benefits of Medicare and Social Security - a worthy objective, but one not likely to engage Democrats in a fledgling majority because it requires tax increases, benefit cuts or some sort of privatization.

But until they demonstrate otherwise, we are inclined to take Mr. Bush and the Democratic leaders at their word, that they intend to work together for the best interests of the nation. And we will hold them to it.

That means Mr. Bush should yield on raising the minimum wage and on embryonic stem cell research - the only proposal he's ever vetoed. Democrats, in turn, must live up to their promise to tighten controls on the federal purse.

An early test of what House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi described yesterday during a post-luncheon tete-?-tete in the Oval Office as a "partnership" will come soon when the Republican Congress reconvenes to finish budget work. Mr. Bush pressed yesterday for lame-duck approval of legislation allowing warrantless wiretaps of Americans before the skeptical Democrats take over. But there is a reasonable compromise on the table that would speed up the judicial review process. The new partners should accept it.

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