Storm Clouds on Bush’s Horizon

President Bush left for his traditional midsummer break Tuesday having accomplished the first goal of his second term — ensuring he wouldn’t spend four years as a lame duck.

Before heading to the ranch in Crawford, Texas, the president celebrated congressional passage of his long-stalled energy bill — a goal he has sought since moving into the White House — and approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

But the early success doesn’t end there.

Bush oversaw passage of the $286 billion transportation bill, which had been stalled in Congress for two years, and the Patriot Act appears well on its way to renewal. The House and Senate are expected to reconcile their differences this fall before major sections of the anti-terrorism legislation expire.

Not bad for a presidency not even eight months into a second term, particularly one that critics have tried to characterize as lame-duck since Bush again took the oath of office. It has not escaped the notice of the White House.

“I think it’s important for the American people to hear about the important progress that we’re making when it comes to our economy,” said Scott McClellan, the president’s press secretary. “And it’s something we’ll continue to talk about because this is something that impacts their daily lives.”

McClellan said Bush intends to “build on the policies we have in place to keep our economy growing stronger.”

The president seems to be faring well on other fronts, too.

It appears that John Roberts, his nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, will face less opposition from Senate Democrats during confirmation proceedings than originally thought _ despite the candidate’s conservative record. Elsewhere, Bush now has in place the person he wanted to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But strong opposition to the candidate, John Bolton, necessitated a recess appointment that will expire at the end of next year.

There will be a few clouds overhead as Bush putters around the ranch over the next four weeks.

Despite his successes and the nation’s healthy economic growth, polls show that the public doesn’t much care for the direction he is providing.

A Zogby America Poll, conducted July 26-30, showed that a minority of respondents, 45 percent, believe the president is doing an excellent or good job, while 55 percent rate him fair or poor. A Gallup poll done July 25-28 offers similar conclusions, with 44 percent saying Bush is doing a good job but 51 percent saying he’s not.

John Zogby, head of Zogby International, said his latest survey showed that voters disapprove of the president’s handling of every facet of his job _ with the exception of the war on terrorism. Fifty-one percent approved of Bush’s actions in that area.

“The president is not likely to feel any significant bump from the events of the past week _ at least, not until new jobs are created from the transportation bill or gas prices are impacted by the energy bill,” he said.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California dismissed the suggestion that Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress were making gains.

“The American people are concerned about job security and Republicans here have done nothing to create jobs,” Pelosi said. “In fact, they and the president have the worst record of job creation since Herbert Hoover. More people do not have access to health care and this Congress has done nothing to make that better for them.”

Meanwhile, Bush’s top domestic priority, Social Security reform, distinguished by private accounts and financial solvency, is in jeopardy. House Republicans are drafting legislation that would use the Social Security surplus to fund private accounts, but the move would only add to the system’s long-term financial problems.

And then there is the investigation into whether Karl Rove, the president’s political guru, or anyone else in the administration committed a crime by revealing to reporters that Valerie Wilson was an undercover operative for the CIA.

(Contact Bill Straub at StraubB(at)