Archive for Saturday, December 13, 2003

Time will tell on Bush success

December 13, 2003


A triumphant President Bush hailed it as a "historic act" that provides "the greatest advance in health care coverage for America's seniors since the founding of Medicare."

A sharply critical House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi condemned it as a "historic mistake" that "tries to destroy Medicare."

Those divergent characterizations both described the new law to provide prescription drug coverage under Medicare, starting in 2006. The comments illustrate the partisan divide over many Bush initiatives that will likely permeate the 2004 campaign.

They also reflected the fact that the controversial measure is yet another Bush program whose ultimate impact and cost won't be fully evident for years.

That's often true with presidential initiatives.

To an unusual degree, however, the substantial agenda that Bush has succeeded through political muscle and hardball tactics in pushing through a closely divided Congress has raised major issues that won't be resolved anytime soon.

Heading the list are the series of personal and business tax cuts that have become the signature achievements of the president's first three years in office.

Bush touts them as the key to economic growth, crediting them with the stunning spurt in recent months. Critics, however, charge they have failed to overcome a net job loss in Bush's presidency and contributed to a tide of red ink.

As long as the current rate of growth continues, Bush will likely benefit at the polls next year. But the ultimate impact of his policy on the nation's economy and the government's budget won't become clear for several years.

Similarly, most of Bush's significant international initiatives are sufficiently long term that their impact may not be fully determined until well after next year's election.

His decision to attack Iraq was a military success and ousted the regime of Saddam Hussein. But the venture's ultimate success won't be resolved until the United States installs a new government and ends any prospect of a renewed threat from Hussein. Beyond Iraq, the degree to which terrorism persists worldwide will be key to ultimate judgments on the Bush presidency.

Similarly, the extent to which the prescription drug law provides relief to seniors and its impact on federal finances will loom large in assessments of Bush's tenure.

Until then, Bush can tout it, Democrats can trash it, but the public may retain the ambivalence that surveys showed this week.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.

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