I think the Times is on to something in this piece in Saturday's paper. A few days ago I noted that the Democrats' success in blocking the White House's overtime rollback plan in the Senate might mark a small but significant shift in the political winds. It seemed questionable whether the Dems would win at all on this amendment. But they ended up winning by nine votes. In the context, that meant winning handily.
(Union sources tell me that they may also get another bite at this apple in the House on a motion to instruct the conferees who will reconcile the House and Senate bills.)
As the Times notes, the fact that this came just as the president is facing reverses on his Iraq policy and on the economy is no accident. (The Times piece also notes a handful of recent small victories for the Dems.) Basically what happened here is that six moderate Republicans didn't feel the White House could protect them on this one.
Those sorts of calculations have been critical to the president's power, as indeed they are to any successful chief executive. The president's partisans have said that they gave the Senate moderates a pass on this one, figuring there was no reason for them to cause themselves trouble over this vote. And that may be true, as far as it goes. But the real issue is that it was a dangerous vote for them. The president's popularity could no longer give them cover.
In a sense, all that's odd is that it ever should have been otherwise. The issue here is overtime pay for middle class families. Dice it, slice it, shred it, whatever --- it's awfully hard to paint that as part of some counter-culture agenda. It's a kitchen table issue if there ever was one. And yet for the last eighteen months the White House has been able to push through a lot of similar stuff. And all for a simple reason: politicians will do almost anything an extremely popular president of their own party tells them to do.
That sort of power has made the White House cocky. How else to explain their decision to push a cut in overtime pay going into an election year? This is the sort of thing Republicans would often like to do but seldom are foolish enough to try.
Now that's starting to change. It's a small change and perhaps an impermanent one. But I think we may look back on this single vote as the first small signs of the tide turning.
For more on the president's current standing, the backdrop for this vote, and the fall-out from last weekend's speech see this comment from CNN's Bill Schneider on Thursday night â¦
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): It didn't work. That is the unambiguous conclusion of a poll taken in the days following President Bush's speech Sunday night.
Before the speech, the president's job approval rating was 59 percent in the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. After his rating dropped suddenly to 52 percent. That's his lowest rating since -- note the date -- September 10, 2001.
Why the drop? One word: Iraq.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: We knew that it was going to be a lot of money and it was going to take a lot of time. But this was the first strong message that the president put out like that.
SCHNEIDER: Approval of the president's handling of Iraq dropped from 57 to 51 percent.
BUSH: Two years ago I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war, fought on many fronts and many places. Iraq is now the central front.
SCHNEIDER: People don't get that connection. Approval of the president's handling of terrorism remains high. Much higher than his rating on Iraq. And that rating hardly changed.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What President Bush gave the American people on Sunday night was a price tag, not a plan.
SCHNEIDER: The public agrees. Strikingly, after the president laid out his policy, the number of Americans who felt the Bush administration does not have a clear plan in Iraq went up, from 54 percent before the speech to 59 percent afterwards.
And what about that price tag?
BUSH: I will soon submit to Congress a request for $87 billion.
SCHNEIDER: Yikes, said the Democrats.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's costing a billion dollars a week. He needs to get the help from the international coalition that he should have gotten months ago.
SCHNEIDER: Yikes, say the voters, who balk at the prospect of spending $87 billion in Iraq when the U.S. economy is shaky.
Our polls suggest President Bush is in political trouble.
Before his speech Sunday night, he had a 12-point edge over an unnamed Democrat for re-election. After the speech, that lead shrank to 4 points. Too close to call.
(on camera): There is a little good news for President Bush. Nearly 60 percent of the public still says Iraq was worth going to war over. The public hasn't turned against the policy, they've turned against the game plan and the price tag.
After everything that has transpired over the last two years we are back in a political situation very similar to that of September 10th, 2001.