With Friends Like These…

    President Bush has an ambitious second-term agenda, so he must look with some confidence at the increased Republican majorities – now a 10-seat margin in the Senate and 30 in the House. And then there’s the “political capital” he talks about.

    Not so fast here. The president and his agenda face serious problems with congressional Republicans. The Democrats, handy scapegoats and whipping boys in his first term, barely figure in the legislative calculus. The president’s battles are likely to be with his own party.

    The Republicans are deeply divided over immigration reform. Rather than grant guest worker status to illegals, as the president proposes, many GOP lawmakers want to get tougher _ deny them drivers’ licenses and deport them faster.

    States rights conservatives like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are opposed to the president’s plan for federal caps on medical lawsuits.

    Some Republicans are publicly skeptical, many more privately so, about Social Security reform. They have yet to see the details of Bush’s plan _ indeed, the White House says there is no plan and won’t be until February _ and, unlike the president’s first term, the lawmakers will resist being stampeded into hasty action.

    There’s still lingering resentment over the pressure to quickly pass a Medicare prescription drug bill and intelligence reform _ on which the president lost 57 House Republicans.

    Meanwhile, a growing number of Republicans with an eye on 2008 will surely come up with Social Security reform plans of their own. And some lawmakers believe when the details of the president’s plan do come out _ showing who gets hurt and by how much _ Social Security will revert to being the third rail of American politics.

    Some Republicans want to deal with tax reform this year rather than next, as the president plans, but that would likely mean that one of the president’s initiatives for this year would be shoved off the calendar.

    There will be a nasty budget fight because the president’s deficit reduction plans call for cuts in domestic programs that Congress holds dear. And finally, because of that deficit and the unbudgeted costs of the Iraq war, there’s no money to go around unless the president and Congress are willing to go even deeper into debt.

    Congress has its regular work to do and some major projects _ the highway and energy bills _ that it didn’t get around to last year. And the lawmakers have left themselves little time to do it. The 2005 legislative calendar allows for generous amounts of time off.

    By next fall, the president might be thinking the Democrats weren’t so bad after all.

    (Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)