Let’s be honest: President Bush’s apparent passage of a budget outline for a $1.3 trillion tax cut is a very big and very important victory. Only his early insistence on the $1.6 trillion dollar number gives the Democrats some thin reason to crow. But let’s not fool ourselves. The president got what he wanted.
This isn’t the Democrats fault exactly. They just don’t have the votes. But here too let’s have a little perspective. President Clinton had a similar moment like this in 1993 when he got his budget outline through Congress. Very hard fought. Big accomplishment, and so forth. But then the Democrats had towering majorities in both chambers. Not George W. Bush. His party essentially has legislative parity in both chambers. So again, don’t gainsay the accomplishment.
(There is a sidelight here: Republicans seem to have fiddled with the numbers a bit at the last moment when putting the House and Senate plans together. And now John Breaux and Jim Jeffords are saying they may no longer be on board. But this is quibbling; the big picture is still the same.)
As one friend from the Hill told me last night — rightly I think — from this point on the legislative terrain changes quickly in the Democrats’ favor. And the president is moving ahead with a raft of ambitious plans which I feel confident will backfire. But the budget is a special kind of victory. It defines the playing field that every other battle gets played on, particularly how much money there is to work with for prescription drugs, Social Security, etc.
So, as I said, let’s not fool ourselves. This is an important and, in tactical and strategy terms at least, impressive victory.