Dems exhort Bush to compromise

Congressional Democrats on Tuesday urged President Bush to compromise with lawmakers after the president used a news conference to attack the Democratic-controlled Congress for not getting more work done.

“This morning the president held his 19th Congressional Finger-Pointing Session,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) told reporters. “The country needs more cooperation and compromise from the president, less confrontation and complaints.”

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called on Bush to “tone down his rhetoric, put down his veto pen and work with Congress.”

The comments from Pelosi and Emanuel show that Democratic leaders are trying to create their own political narrative so that the public does not buy into Bush’s story that Congress is being recalcitrant and unwilling to compromise. Bush’s reluctance to compromise on a number of issues poses problems for the Democratic Congress, which is highly unpopular with voters based on recent polls.

“Democrats in Congress have repeatedly signaled our willingness to work with the president to make progress for the American people and have been rebuffed at every turn,” Pelosi said in a statement. “There is no need for the administration to fabricate a political standoff when congressional leaders are willing to find common ground.”

Pelosi was reacting to Bush, who in a Tuesday-morning press conference demanded that Congress pass bills providing $50 billion for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax.

“The holidays are approaching, and the clock is ticking for the United States Congress,” Bush said. “Based on the record so far, Americans could be forgiven for thinking that Santa will have slipped down their chimney on Christmas Eve before Congress finishes its work. Let’s hope they’re wrong.”

Bush has threatened to veto bills expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), an energy bill increasing gas mileage standards for cars and trucks and a host of spending bills Congress must pass to keep the government running.

Democrats are faced with either cutting their losses and agreeing to Bush’s demands or pressing their agenda.

If Democrats choose the first course, as they did earlier this year on a $90 billion Iraq war spending measure, they risk angering and demoralizing liberal activists. By continuing to press their agenda, on the other hand, they risk confrontation and showdown. It is also more difficult for Democrats to capture the political high ground because while several Democrats spout their party’s positions, Bush still retains the power of the bully pulpit.

Even though that discontent does not seem to be having a negative impact on the electoral prospects for individual Democratic lawmakers, especially freshman Democrats, congressional leaders would like to recess for the year with a few more accomplishments to their credit.

Compromise, however, seems unlikely, despite Bush’s statement to reporters Tuesday that he enjoys “cordial” relations with congressional leaders. Bush noted that he saw Pelosi at the Congressional Christmas Party at the White House on Monday evening.

Bush’s statements contrast with those of Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and other Democratic leaders, who have said during this past year that they never seemed to connect with Bush at White House meetings or public events.

Pelosi said last month she asked Bush to discuss SCHIP, but he was non-committal to talks.

Hoyer told reporters in October that he spoke to Bush about the need to compromise on a spending bill to fund the government and that Bush seemed to be willing to talk. But no meetings resulted from that encounter.

Congressional Democrats have tried to escape Bush’s ability to frame issues in all-or-nothing contexts. They have called on Bush for months to compromise on issues ranging from Iraq to healthcare to federal spending.

 Pelosi told Bush in March to “calm down with the threats” and twice urged him “to take a deep breath” after Bush said voters would hold Democrats responsible if they did not pass an emergency supplemental spending bill to pay for the war in Iraq.

One trend in Bush’s rhetoric that might please congressional Democrats is that he does not single them out in his initial criticism. He almost always criticizes the “Congress” rather than the “Democratic-controlled” Congress.  

His predecessor, Bill Clinton, did the same thing during the 1996 election.

Leading Democrats complained that Clinton, in his effort to “triangulate,” or distance himself from Congressional Republicans and Democrats, would not refer to the unpopular Congress as the Republican-controlled Congress.

“Everyone knows that Congress is controlled by Democrats. I just think it goes without saying,” Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said.

“We certainly wouldn’t object if he called it the ‘Democrat’ Congress more often, but I think it’s implicit in the context of his remarks,” Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said.