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Tuesday, Nov 16, 2004

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Testing times ahead for Bush in second term

Sridhar Krishnaswami

Washington , Nov. 15

THE Republicans may talk about the "mandate" of the recent elections and the President Mr George W. Bush may be keen to spend all that "capital" he got out of the November 2 event, but the fact of the matter is that it is so much easier to "talk" of what can be done on Capitol Hill.

The Democrats may have been bruised during the recent elections but they are far from being written off; and it is so simplistic to talk of all the Republicans coming together to pass their conservative agenda.

The truth of the matter is that Mr Bush's opposition on Capitol Hill comes not from merely the Democrats, but from those deficit hawks of his own party who have no use for the spending plans of the White House.

The attention on Capitol Hill over the next few weeks will come in two parts — the Lame Duck session of the 108th Congress will get under way this Tuesday and probably last for about 10 days or so. And then comes the 109th Congress next January with the Republicans entering the corridors of the Senate with four additional members to take their tally to 55; and hoping that when the Louisiana run offs are over, the total in the House of Representatives will come to 231.

The outgoing 108th Congress has its hands full even while many are not sure what can be achieved in this short sitting.

There are a raft of spending bills — nine in all — pending for the fiscal year that began on October 1; the federal debt limit must be raised by November 18 if the Government is to avoid default of more than $7 trillion of debt.

To reach a consensus on the spending bills, the Senate and the House must get through appropriations gimmicks along with the language that is deemed acceptable to the White House.

For instance, Republicans have been unable to persuade the Democrats to detach language blocking the administration from changing overtime rules and on outsourcing of government jobs. The White House has said that it would veto any spending bill that has prohibitions on either of these.

In a domestic setting, the tougher agenda for Mr Bush includes the permanency of the tax cuts; coming up with a new tax code per se and overhauling social security.

Some remind the White House that for some of the President's policies to take shape, the economy must show signs of a take off and conditions markedly improving in Iraq so that some restive Republicans looking at the mid-term Congressional polls of November 2006 do not become jittery.

"Making the tax cuts permanent would drain about a trillion dollars of revenue, at about the same time you would need an extra trillion or more for social security plan. And the plan to cut the deficit in half assumes that we don't spend any more on Iraq or Afghanistan, which is not a reasonable assumption," says Mr Robert Bixby, the Executive Director of Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group for fiscal responsibility.

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