Bush signals compromise

Speech on domestic policy could lift fortunes

January 23, 2007|By Maura Reynolds | Maura Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- As President Bush prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address to a Democratic-controlled Congress, he might be at the lowest point in his six-year presidency, analysts say.

Yet on domestic policy, the president might have an opportunity to revive his fortunes on several fronts, including health care, immigration and energy policy.

What that would take is a willingness by the president to work to achieve compromises on Capitol Hill even at the risk of displeasing the Republican Party's conservative base. And it would take a Democratic leadership willing to do the same with its base.

In 2001, Bush reached out to Democrats immediately after his election, securing passage of the No Child Left Behind education law that remains a hallmark of his domestic record. White House officials suggest that despite increasing partisanship since then, Bush is open to compromise.

"He understands his obligation is to go ahead forthrightly [on] big problems and come up with solutions that not only are going to have political appeal but they're also going to be effective in making life better for Americans," said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

Each side is expected to use the speech to send signals to the other - the president with his words and the Democrats with their applause, or lack thereof.

Forging compromises and persuading Democrats to join him in the effort will not be easy, analysts say. Some say it is too late for Bush to regain the confidence of Democrats or much of the nation.

"People don't have confidence in him or his trustworthiness, and both of those undermine his ability to bounce back," said George C. Edwards III, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M University. "This is the lowest point in his presidency, absolutely. It's almost the time of desperation."

Bush's approval rating averaged 37 percent over the past year, according to Gallup - one of the lowest yearly approval ratings of any president since the polling organization started measuring them during the Truman administration.

Bush is scheduled to deliver his speech before a joint session of Congress at 9 tonight.

White House aides said that instead of the traditional laundry list of subjects - in which the president gives at least a brief plug for the favored programs of every Cabinet department - Bush plans to focus on a few key issues in his State of the Union address.

In past years, Bush has devoted roughly half his speech to national security and the "war on terror." This year the speech comes just 10 days after he delivered a prime-time address to the nation on the subject, and aides say he does not intend to repeat himself.

At a time of increasing tension between the Bush administration and Iran, foreign governments are likely to listen carefully to what the president says about that country and Iraq's neighbor Syria.

But it is on domestic policy that Bush has the most opportunity to find common ground with Democrats, if he chooses to take it.

Aides say Bush will concentrate his remarks on four domestic policy areas: energy, health care, immigration and education.

Maura Reynolds writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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