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Giving Up on Bipartisan Agreement
An Essay by NPR's Daniel Schorr

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Daniel Schorr
Daniel Schorr

Nov. 7, 2001 -- The first veto threat since Sept. 11 may well have signaled the end of wartime bipartisanship. Conflict had already arisen over federalizing airport security. And then President Bush uttered the “V” word, saying he would not accept an increase in defense and domestic anti-terrorism spending beyond the $40 billion already budgeted. The president was reported to have ended the meeting brusquely saying, “Thank you very much. I have another meeting to go to.”

Behind the argument over emergency spending looms another confrontation over an economic stimulus package. The House Republican proposal leans heavily towards benefits for business and upper-bracket individual taxpayers. The Senate Democratic bill, aside from additional spending for security and infrastructure, leans towards the lower-income and unemployed, many of whom suffered in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

"In digging in his heels, Mr. Bush is clearly trading on his popularity as wartime leader.... But opposing spending perceived as related to the terrorist threat would seem to be politically counterintuitive."

Daniel Schorr

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd warns that if the president opposes programs to deal with terrorism, that's when Armageddon will come. Furthermore, a protracted face-off over taxes and spending is likely to end any chance for action this year on key programs like education, energy, Social Security and Medicare drug benefits.

In digging in his heels, Mr. Bush is clearly trading on his popularity as wartime leader. A New York Times/CBS poll shows him with an 87 percent job approval rating; Congress with 67 percent. But opposing spending perceived as related to the terrorist threat would seem to be politically counterintuitive.

The apparent willingness of the president to dispense with bipartisan cooperation and take on the Democrats can perhaps be best understood in the light of family political history. The younger Bush is playing to the conservative galleries by holding the ideological line. It is well remembered that Bush Sr. lost conservative re-election support when he was criticized as compromising too much in the name of unity.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for NPR.