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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Congress hopes to break for the holidays soon, but there is still unfinished business. The issues are important but also hugely contentious. This week, most of the action has been in the US Senate. Yesterday, Vice President Cheney came down to cast a tie-breaking vote on a deficit reduction bill, then a group of mostly Democratic senators blocked passage of the defense appropriations bill, usually a must-pass measure, and forced the leadership to take out an amendment that would have allowed drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Then last night, the Senate voted to extend the USA Patriot Act for six months. Earlier, the White House and the Republican leadership refused any delay on the Patriot Act, but grudgingly accepted the six-month deal. Over the past few weeks, important parts of the president's agenda have been stalled, blocked or killed in Congress. It's the most serious legislative opposition since he was first elected.

Later on in the program, we'll take a closer look at two court cases where federal judges have challenged the administration as well on the detention of enemy combatants and on warrantless wiretaps of Americans.

But we begin in Congress. If you have questions about what's happening on any of these big bills or about the larger issues of president power and congressional politics, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. He joins us here in Studio 3A.

And, Ken, very nice of you to be with us as always.

KEN RUDIN (NPR Political Editor): Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And first, the Patriot Act. Senior Republicans and the White House saying as late as yesterday they would not accept any extensions; they wanted this to be made permanent now. And then there's the six-month extension.

RUDIN: You know, and we've seen this before. A few weeks ago, President Bush said he would absolutely not accept language from the John McCain amendment that would bar torture, you know, of foreign detainees. He said, `Absolutely not. I would veto it before anything happens.' And the president caved. It's a sign, one, of the fact that a lot of Republicans are distancing themselves from a president who has shown weaker and weaker poll numbers, although there have been some spikes lately. And the fact that the president, in the sixth year of his presidency, you have President Bush who cannot run again, who will not be on the ballot again, but these Republicans will. So there's more and more declarations of independence.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. So when the president left the White House to get on his helicopter yesterday and said, `The Senate must do this and the Senate needs to do that before'--and then they didn't.

RUDIN: Right. And there's some grumblings by some conservatives in the House. The House is going to meet today at 4:00 and ostensibly they will do a unanimous consensus to extend the Patriot Act for six months. But again, there are people like the Judiciary Committee chairman, James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who says `Absolutely not. I want a permanent--you know, a four-year, you know, renewal.' But again, you know, we've seen people back down before and we could see it again.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And then on the defense appropriations bills, that would require the House of Representatives to strip out their version of the ANWR permission to go ahead and drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and, again, accept the Senate's obstreperousness

RUDIN: Well, again--I mean, of course, people--whether it's a Democrat against Republican or Republicans against Republican, members of the House don't like to be dictated to by what the Senate does. But still, again, you know, there's been a lot of unease about ANWR in the House, as well. There are a lot of moderate Republicans who would like to see it go away and when they come back at 4:00, the defense bill will pass, again by voice--by unanimous consent without any debate.

CONAN: And that will leave ANWR in limbo. It's an issue that's not going away; it's just not getting approved right now.

RUDIN: It's been in limbo for decades. Ted Stevens, a senior senator from Alaska, a senior Republican from Alaska, has been fighting for it for over 25 years, and I guess he'll fight it again. He'll try to attach it to something next year, too. But it's interesting. If Ted Stevens could not get it passed now, which some say could be the last year of Republican control of the House and Senate, and next year being an election year, this may have been his best chance.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. He called it I think yesterday `the worst day in my life.'

RUDIN: Even the Hulk was crying on his tie.

CONAN: (Laughs) You've got to explain that, Ken.

RUDIN: Ted Stevens is known for his Incredible Hulk ties, and he wears it for special occasions. He always says, `When I wear it, I do not lose,' but he did lose yesterday.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And on the one that the president's supporters are calling a win for them, and that's deficit reduction, a squeaker of a vote in the Senate, and then the Democrats used some parliamentary maneuverings to again force another vote in the House of Representatives. But that $40 billion in deficit reductions did go through.

RUDIN: Well, it went through the Senate and again, you know, Dick Cheney had to drive all the way from the Mideast to come from--other parts of the world to cast a tie-breaking vote. But because of some procedural matters, the Democrats made some changes and now Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in the House say they will not agree to an automatic vote today, a unanimous consent, so it'll be put off till next year. And by doing so, Pelosi and the Democrats will make some moderate Republicans take another uncomfortable vote on cutting things like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, school lunches, things like that.

CONAN: We're talking about the rush of big legislation that's trying to make its way out of Congress at the end of this session. If you'd like to join the conversation, (800) 989-8255. E-mail us: totn@npr.org. We're also going to be talking later about the broader issue of the president's political and constitutional rivalry with some in Congress. And later, of course, also with the judicial branch.

Anyway, let's get a caller on the line. This is Jennifer, Jennifer calling from Silver Spring in Maryland.

JENNIFER (Caller): Hi. I just had a quick question. I was wondering how was the Senate able to strip out the ANWR provision? Was it using--What is it?--Rule 28?

CONAN: Rule 28, Ken.

RUDIN: Right. Well, what you need to know is that Ted Stevens attached it to any vehicle he can. He tried to attach it to a budget bill, but moderate Republicans in the House wouldn't go along with it. They tried and--so it failed. Then he attached it to the defense spending bill and basically what happened was Democrats--he basically dared Democrats to vote against it. Given the fact that this is $453 billion for troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to hurricane aid and flu preparedness funds, Stevens attached it to this bill and dared Democrats to vote against it. And Democrats said, `Look, you know, we are not against the war'--I'm sorry, `We are not against drilling in ANWR, and how dare you suggest that by voting against this we are not backing our fighting soldiers across--around the world.' What it is is that it's a breach of Senate politics and Senate rules to attach something to a must-pass bill.

So Joe Lieberman, who's a big supporter of the war in Iraq, stood up essentially yesterday and said, `Look, this has nothing to do with--of course, I support the troops, but this is not the way to do it.' And so what happened was Democrats and some Republicans filibustered the bill--filibustered it, and so it was--as long as it was part--as ANWR was part of this defense spending bill, it was not going to get passed.

And then they had another rule which was the Rule 28, the Byrd rule, which basically they--I think by Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington state, voted to take ANWR out of the final bill and they did that by a 48-to-45 vote.

CONAN: Jennifer, Rule 28, there you go.

JENNIFER: Thank you. I'm a government teacher, and so the kids have been asking me so I wanted to make sure I was correct.

CONAN: OK. Well, there you go.

JENNIFER: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Let's bring another voice into the conversation now, and this is Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. And he joins us from the studios of NPR West in Culver City.

And, Professor Pitney, nice to have you on the program again.

Professor JACK PITNEY (Claremont McKenna College): Thank you.

CONAN: And I wanted to ask you about this broader question that I've been talking briefly with Ken about, and that is the president has encountered more legislative opposition I think in the past three or four weeks than he did in his entire term.

Prof. PITNEY: That's right. And part of it is that he was extraordinarily successful in his first term in maintaining Republican unity. He had the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and that tends to unify political support. He also had the outcome of the 2002 midterm in which he regained his Senate majority. A lot of Republicans were grateful for that. He had a successful re-election, strengthened Republican majorities in both chambers. But the law of political gravity kicks in--What goes up must come down--and we saw it come down in the past two weeks.

CONAN: And should we see this--I'm sorry, Ken, you wanted to...

RUDIN: Well, I was going to say, plus the fact that you also see Republican leadership hurt in both the House and Senate. You have a distraction with Tom DeLay in the House; he stepped aside. Roy Blunt, his nominal successor from Missouri, is not doing the job and a lot of Republicans are waiting for Tom DeLay to come back and rescue them. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

CONAN: Another delay in his trial in Texas announced today. So it doesn't look like he's going to be back anytime soon.

RUDIN: A delayed DeLay; that's right. And in the Senate, you had Bill Frist, who's already said he's not running for re-election next year--he's already looking at a president bid--and so is a lame duck. Plus, the fact that he has an SEC--a Security and Exchange Commission investigation going into some stock sales, he may be distracted, as well. So the leadership--the Republican leadership in both the House and Senate is proving wanting.

CONAN: And, Jack Pitney, I guess we can't leave that litany without mentioning the negotiations that are apparently under way right now with Jack Abramoff and his attorneys, who may agree to a guilty plea, at least that's the speculation here in Washington, and that's something that has a lot of members of Congress deeply worried.

Prof. PITNEY: Absolutely. Nobody is quite sure whom Abramoff is going to name, what kind of accusations that will come up with it, possibly indictments. And the word `indictment' tends to scare a lot of people on Capitol Hill. So instead of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," we're seeing an episode of "The Sopranos."

CONAN: But talking about this friction that the president's been encountering in Congress the past several weeks, should we see this as cyclical, something Ken was talking about, this happens every time in a president's sixth term, or is this, to some degree, a response by some in Congress to what they perceive as presidential overreaching?

Prof. PITNEY: Well, it's a combination of the two. Certainly in the second term, a president generally loses support in Congress. People start looking ahead to the day when the president will no longer be in office. But also, there's another cycle coming in; that's the cycle of political warfare. That is at the beginning of a war, members of Congress tend to unite around the president. But as the war drags on, the separation of powers kicks in and members of Congress start to question the administration, and that's true both in the case of the war in Iraq and the war on terror.

CONAN: Start to question the administration again. The administration pointing out on several occasions, `Hey, you all voted for the Patriot Act when it was approved. You all approved of the war going in,' and there's some exceptions, of course, and trying to hoist members of Congress on their own petard, on their own previous votes.

Prof. PITNEY: That's right. And we'll see more of that in the days ahead. We've seen Republicans striking back by pointing out Harry Reid was present at the signing of the Patriot Act. We see a lot of references to the acts of previous presidents in supporting warrantless searches. So there's going to be a lot of back-and-forth on that, and the key question for members of Congress is the reaction of the public. When it comes to issues of national security, are they going to side with Congress or the president?

CONAN: We're talking with Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, and NPR's political editor Ken Rudin about the end-of-the-year legislation in Congress and also, more broadly, about checks and balances as Capitol Hill puts a few roadblocks in the way of the president's agenda. (800) 989-8255 if you'd like to join us.

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about last-minute efforts to pass legislation on Capitol Hill this week. Most members of Congress already returned to their districts for the holidays. They're being summoned back for a meeting this afternoon--4:00 in the House of Representatives--for some votes. This is on the Patriot Act extension, the defense appropriations bill and these are measures the president would have previously gotten through Congress with little difficulty. He encountered quite a bit of difficulty this past week. Our guests are Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, and Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California.

If you have questions about what's happening with those bills or about presidential power and congressional politics, our number is (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Later on in the program, we'll be talking with two constitutional scholars about a couple of other things that have come out, warrantless searches, electronic searches of Americans; that authorized by the president without judicial review. And then a court decision yesterday--an appellate court decision that refused the president permission to transfer Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber, from military control to civilian control. He'd been indicted on a couple of counts, saying that this looked like an attempt to avoid a review of his case before the Supreme Court. So we're going to be finding out what all that's about.

But anyway, first, back to Capitol Hill and to politics. And talking about the leadership as Ken just--before the break, is there any suggestion now that the House of Representatives--they're going to look for a new leader or that in the Senate, where Mr. Frist, as you say, is a lame duck at this point, that they might be looking toward new leadership?

RUDIN: Well, that's a very good question, because now the schedule as it stands right now, the House is not scheduled to come back until January 31st, missing the entire month of January. And most people are saying the reason the Republican leadership has left open the month is so Tom DeLay could somehow be acquitted of what's going on in Texas 'cause he's under indictment there. The problem with that is that even if he does beat this case, this Ronnie Earle case in Texas, he is still, as Jack Pitney said, he's still...

CONAN: Ronnie Earle, the Democrat prosecutor, who's bringing the case.

RUDIN: Right. The Travis County, Austin, district attorney, right. Even if he's exonerated in that case, he--the worst-case scenario for the Republicans is that he beats the case, comes back to Washington, is welcomed by open arms by his Republican colleagues, he's reinstated as majority leader, then--Boom!--he gets indicted or caught up in the Jack Abramoff mess. So the Republicans are very nervous about what to do there. There's a leadership vacuum clearly in the House, and there are maybe a handful but they're a growing handful of those who say, `Let's not wait for Tom DeLay anymore. We have to look elsewhere and get new leadership.'

CONAN: And, Jack Pitney, let me throw a question about the other side of the aisle, the relatively new leadership in both houses for the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives and Harry Reid in the United States Senate. They have not exactly electrified America, either.

Prof. PITNEY: No. They've done a skillful job procedurally in Congress, especially in the past week in throwing up roadblocks to legislation they don't like. What they haven't done yet is put together a clear and consistent message on the issues. And Nancy Pelosi has been on record as saying that the party doesn't need a clear and consistent message when it comes to Iraq. That may or may not prove true in the 2006 election if public opinion turns even more against policy in Iraq. Then the Democrats could benefit even if they don't have a unified message. But there is a large faction of the party that wants to be for something and not just against something, and that's one layer of conflict that the Democrats have to contend with.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Robert, Robert's calling us from Somerville, Massachusetts.

ROBERT (Caller): Hi. How are you?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

ROBERT: I just have a question about whether your guests think we're moving towards a real realignment. Because the Republican Party that I grew up being aware of was opposed to deficit spending, opposed to government intrusion and really, really shape on issues of civil liberties and defending them, opposed to foreign adventurism. And now you see that all of those sort of principles that the Republican Party seemed to be based on, it's kind of like `never mind.' So I'm wondering is that a short-term thing, or are we really seeing the Republican Party transform into something very different than what it stood for 10 or 15 years ago?

CONAN: Jack Pitney.

Prof. PITNEY: Well, if you go back in the 1980s, you found record-high deficits under the Reagan administration. You also found a lot of activism overseas in places such as Nicaragua and El Salvador. And many of the accusations being leveled against the current Bush administration were leveled against the Reagan administration. And so the debate has a very familiar tone to it.

RUDIN: And also, if you remember in 1994 when the Republicans were trying to and ultimately were successful in recapturing Congress, they said, `Look, there's a culture of corruption among these Democrats in Congress. You've got to vote them out after 40 years of, you know, autocratic and unresponsive rule. You have to--we have to stop this wasteful spending.' Well, lo and behold, 10 years later, you have Republicans in control of Congress with record deficits and there's no shortage of corruption, either. So it's--I don't know if there's a realignment among Republicans, but there's certainly something about a party that gets into power and then what they do with that power.

CONAN: But Robert's point is there are certainly elements of the Republican Party--and you think of Mike Pence, the congressman from Indiana--who are deficit hawks and very unhappy with the way a lot of these measures have been approved by Congress.

RUDIN: Absolutely true. And look at the record. President Bush has yet to veto any kind of measure; no veto at all. And so if the president says he's very unhappy about the huge spending requests by Congress, well, use that veto pen, and he has not so far.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And we're talking about Republicans, who control both houses of Congress and the White House, as if they're in power because they are. And, Jack Pitney, let me raise another point about that, and that is unhappiness by some Republicans as well about all of the pork in the transportation bill that just seem to be out of whack this time around.

Prof. PITNEY: That's right. If you were to weigh the transportation bill in the amount of pork is measured that you could find at the supermarket, it would come to about 200 pounds for every man, woman and child in the United States. There's an old saying among staffers on Capitol Hill, `They're incumbents first and Republicans second.' Members of Congress want to get re-elected, and re-election involves servicing the constituencies. And we'll see that under both Republicans and Democrats.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. But as Republicans try to expand their base and become the natural party of government, as a lot of Republicans strategists try to paint them over these past several years, Ken Rudin, as they've tried to expand that base--well, if you do that, you then incorporate a number of elements that are not necessarily happy with where the mainstream is going along. It's a less-disciplined party.

RUDIN: But you know, that's true about the Democrats, too. When the Democrats were in the wilderness, losing the McGoverns and the Mondales and the Dukakises and along comes Bill Clinton and he brings the Democrats out of the wilderness and yet there were so many Democrats that said, `What do we stand for? He's more conservative than he should be, he's tough on welfare, he's tough on crime. I mean, he's Republican lite. And so, therefore, what do we stand for?' Both true believers in the Democratic and Republican Party have this gnawing uneasiness that once you get in power, you just have to reach ...(unintelligible), you have to reach for a majority, and in doing so, you lose your core values.

CONAN: So, Robert, anywhere in there did we answer any of your questions?

ROBERT: Yeah, I think so. I mean, maybe I'm thinking--you know, I'm almost 50, and I'm thinking about the Republican Party of, you know, Barry Goldwater and Reagan before he got power and just how really aggressive they were about the idea of small government, about keeping--you know, protecting individual liberties, about making sure there were no intrusions and how they trace that to, you know, early American history. And I just feel like we've completely somehow lost that, and now it's, `Yeah, yeah, we're for all that except that now we're for--we have a war and so forget all those principles and now we're going to spend through the roof and do whatever we like on civil liberties.' And it's kind--I'm not a Republican, but I must say I'm kind of surprised that there's such a speedy abandonment of those principles. That's what it looks like to me.

CONAN: Well, I'm not sure everybody's abandoned them. But anyway, Robert, thank you very much for the call. Appreciate it.

ROBERT: Yeah.

CONAN: Let's talk now with Sherry, Sherry's calling us from San Diego.

SHERRY (Caller): Hi, there. Thanks for taking my call. I'm a little nervous.

CONAN: Oh, go ahead. So are we.

SHERRY: My question has to do with other provisions that have sort of stayed under the radar in the defense bill. Obviously, the Alaskan oil drilling was the big measure that, you know, caused a filibuster. But there's also a provision under the protection from avian flu headline that provides incredibly broad immunity to the pharmaceutical companies.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

SHERRY: This is not the first time Senator Frist has inserted this language into bills. He's inserted it probably five or six times, starting with the homeland security bill, and it actually had to be removed from the bill in 2002. And my question is: Is there--will there be a way in which activists or concerned people can get provisions removed once the bill is passed?

CONAN: So this is a bill--and let me just explain this for our audience. This is the defense appropriations bill, which has been passed by both the House and the Senate and then sent to conference committee. They reconcile both versions so that the House and the Senate then vote on the same version of the bill. That's the version that the Senate objected to earlier this week over that provision on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A very unusual time, Ken Rudin, to try to get something out because you can't amend a bill once it's out of--once it's a conference report.

RUDIN: Right. And I'm not sure if Sherry's asking whether lawmakers in the House, for example, can take that out, because basically they won't 'cause they're going to approve the bill today at 4:00, again by unanimous consent, with no recorded vote. If Sherry's asking whether there's any recourse for regular citizens to--I'm not sure. Sherry, is that what you're asking?

SHERRY: Well, I mean, citizens' only recourse is through their legislators, I understand that.

RUDIN: Right.

CONAN: But I don't think there's an opportunity at this point, Ken, do you, for further changes to that defense appropriations bill? And Sherry's right. There are other non-germane matters in it; Katrina relief and the avian flu thing that she's talking about.

RUDIN: My understanding is that when it passes--if the House votes on it today, that it's a done deal.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Sherry, thank...

SHERRY: Thank you.

CONAN: I'm sorry if it's a disappointment, but thanks for the phone call. We appreciate it.

SHERRY: Thank you.

CONAN: And this--as you look at this situation, Jack Pitney, is this--can you find analogies? I mean, this was a president who really enjoyed, you know, a lot of support. He did have control of Congress throughout his term, but nevertheless, he seems to have gotten his way for so long and now running into difficulties.

Prof. PITNEY: One analogy would be President Reagan. President Reagan scored some very impressive victories in his first term. Even in his second term, he had the tax reform bill of 1985, 1986. But in the 1986 midterms, Democrats retook control of the Senate and his congressional support scores as measured by Congressional Quarterly fell to record lows. So President Reagan had a lot of difficulty in his second term, as well.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. This is, again, I guess, Ken Rudin, an illustration of that second-term blues that so many presidents have.

RUDIN: Right. But you know--and Jack knows this better than anybody. If you look at the initial success of Nixon and then how it fell apart, the initial success of Reagan and how it fell apart--unlike those two presidents, George W. Bush did have, for the most part, control of the House and Senate, a comfortable control of the House and Senate, for most of his presidency. Given the fact that he had stratospheric ratings following 9/11, given the fact that they picked up seats in 2002 and was re-elected in 2004, he came into office--I think the day he was re-elected, he said, `I have political capital and I intend to use it.' And yet the things he really wanted, like the permanent tax cuts and overhaul of Social Security and ANWR, none of that seems to be happening.

CONAN: We're talking with NPR's political editor Ken Rudin and with Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, about politics on Capitol Hill. And later in the program we'll be talking with two congressional scholars about judicial chafing about presidential authority.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Jack Pitney, he was just--Ken was just talking about the examples of the second Nixon term and the second Reagan term. Of course, they both had major-league scandals at the time called Watergate and Iran-Contra. There's some fuss about warrantless searches authorized by the president of the United States, but that's nothing approaching either of these other two situations.

Prof. PITNEY: No, at least not at the current time. We'll see if there are hearings at the beginning of 2006. There may be revelations that get the public's attention in a way that they haven't so far. In 1974, the Republicans took a shellacking in the midterm election, but people who've looked at that have found it actually had a lot more to do with the recession of 1974 than with Watergate. One source of hope for the Republicans, and we saw this in the news broadcast just before this program, is that the economic news is generally pretty good. So that doesn't mean that Republicans are out of danger, but one source of danger that's lurked in the past isn't there yet.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And, Ken Rudin, another concern for particularly members--Republicans in the House of Representatives is the Supreme Court's willingness now to review the redistricting case in Texas that gave the Republicans, well, effectively five more seats.

RUDIN: True, but I mean if the question is whether Tom DeLay and the Republicans were overly partisan in drawing lines, well, that argument gets thrown out immediately because Democrats have been doing that for years, and one of the reasons that Democrats had such control of the House of Representatives for 40 years was because of the control of the redistricting process.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line before we have to go. This is Deborah--Is that right?--in St. Paul.

DEBORAH (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.

DEBORAH: Thank you for taking the call. I was calling because a few minutes ago you were talking about the bills that passed or didn't pass yesterday.

CONAN: Right.

DEBORAH: The Senate passed a budget reconciliation bill that's been called, even by yourself, a deficit reduction bill. But the same--that was $40 billion in program cuts. But the same leadership is passing a tax cut bill of $70 billion. So whatever it is, it's not gonna reduce the deficit.

CONAN: Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: That's a good point. And one of the reasons the Democrats in the House are very eager to have that vote postponed, the vote in the House, until next year is because they want to point out the fact that not only is Congress about to cut programs for the poor, but they're about to give tax rebates to the rich, and especially in an election year that could damage Republican hopes.

CONAN: And again, we call them cuts in programs for the poor even though what they're doing is restraining the growth, how quickly the programs grow, though it would cause people to be cut off the rolls.

RUDIN: Oh, 100,000 people are being--yes, exactly. They...

CONAN: So it is a cut.

DEBORAH: True. OK. Well, thank you.

CONAN: OK. Deborah, thanks very much for the call.

DEBORAH: All right.

CONAN: And that's--the president's hoped to get those tax cuts that he had passed in the first term made permanent, Ken Rudin. That's gonna be another battle as we look forward to next year.

RUDIN: It will be a battle, but again the Republicans will say if you look at the economics, what's going out there with jobs and job creation and, you know, numbers, the economy is picking up, and I think President Bush's recent poll surge is showing that. So they are trying to make the case that the economic plan that Bush instituted in 2001 is working, but again, Democrats will gladly show that the cuts in Medicaid, Medicare and school lunches and things like that and say, `No, it's not the way to go.'

CONAN: And briefly, Jack Pitney, can we look forward to even more partisan battles over the next year as we come up to the 2006 elections?

Prof. PITNEY: That's the safest, best bet you can make. There's a lot of uncertainty in the future, but the one thing that we can all agree on is this is going to be a very bloody and partisan year coming ahead, and there's really no way around that.

CONAN: Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. He joined us today from the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Prof. PITNEY: Thank you.

CONAN: And Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, joined us here in 3A. If you want to, you can read his latest Political Junkie column at our Web site, npr.org.

And, Ken, as always, thanks for coming in.

RUDIN: Thanks a lot, Neal.

CONAN: When we come back from a short break, we're gonna be talking about challenges to the administration on the judicial sign. Two legal scholars will join us to talk about new developments in the case of enemy combatant Jose Padilla and the fallout over domestic espionage by the National Security Agency. If you'd like to join that conversation, (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. E-mail is totn@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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