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Exclusive: GOP Congress in Rebellion Against Bush

Republican congressmen tired of being bullied

  • Related: Novak Nails the Texas Primaries<>
  • All the evidence suggests that the Bush Administration now has an all-out rebellion on its hands from the GOP Congress. This is not isolated in any single issue, such as the ports deal, but in fact extends to that and numerous other issues as well. Republican congressmen are tired of being bullied and ignored by a heavy-handed executive, and they are playing hardball with their President. Given his unpopularity, many of them find it useful to distance themselves from Bush anyway.

    In short, Bush has little leverage left within his own party, and his transformation to lame-duck status is all but complete. On all sides, conservative Republicans are working against him. The biggest visible difference between their conduct and that of a Democratic Congress is that they have not begun impeachment proceedings.

    Ports Deal

    This is the clearest example of Bush’s problems with his erstwhile allies. Republican Congressmen feel that Bush is wholly responsible for his current mess over a deal giving a Dubai-based company control of portions of key American ports. Bush, they feel, got himself into this mess when he cut Congressional Republicans out of the equation and kept them in the dark—and now Bush can get himself out of it as far as they’re concerned.

    Adding insult to injury, language de-funding the ports deal will be written into the upcoming emergency supplemental. This would be some real intra-party hardball—Bush would have to veto funding for Katrina, homeland security and the troops, or else suffer the undoing of a deal he has promised will go forward.

    Budget

    Another Republican rebellion is breaking out on the budget front, where independent-minded Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is taking on the administration for its budgeting proposal. Bush’s budget zeroes out the so-called “Crime Victims Fund,” which is funded through criminal fines, fees and forfeitures, and thus pays for itself. Coburn is accusing the administration of playing a “budget shell game” by zeroing out the fund in order to make room for more spending elsewhere, but planning to restore the fund later.

    Coburn’s hearings, set for today, will include a victim of the Oklahoma City bombing. They are significant because they could be politically damaging for Bush if anyone notices them. More and more conservatives seem emboldened nowadays to snipe at the President, whose poor efforts at reaching out to Congress have not helped his overall cause.

    Katrina

    Another rebellion lies here, headed mostly by Louisiana conservatives. Last week, President Bush was brutalized by an erroneous Associated Press story that he had been warned about levee breaches before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans—significant because Bush later said that no one had expected the breaches. In fact, the story resulted from journalists’ taking the plain meaning of words spoken in a videotape and misconstruing them so as to confuse. The AP then waited until Friday night to issue a partial correction.

    The episode demonstrates the enduring hostility of the Washington press corps, and the fact they will knife Bush every chance they get. It is the latest in a long line of events that includes the infamous Memogate report, in which forged documents were used to suggest chronic absenteeism and drug abuse by Bush during his military service.

    Bearing this in mind, the administration’s inert posture and opacity with respect to the Katrina rebuilding process is all the more baffling. The White House has done little to get its act together and work with members of Congress on the reconstruction, making the President even more of a target for hostile journalists. Moreover, through its curious inflexibility and inaction, the White House has again incurred the wrath of conservative Republicans in Louisiana’s congressional delegation, including Sen. David Vitter (R) and Rep. Richard Baker (R). Even in matters as small as the itinerary of visiting congressmen, FEMA proved inflexible, drawing criticism from conservative Rep. Bobby Jindal (R).

    President Bush’s visit to Katrina-ravaged Louisiana this week comes after six months of bungling that threatens political catastrophe for the state’s Republicans. Bush will tout his belated $4.2-billion plan finally to provide housing for people made homeless by the storm, but it may be too little, too late. The government’s post-hurricane performance has been a mess. Republicans, who control the state’s congressional delegation, the U.S. Congress, and the White House, will bear a significant part of the blame.

    The simplistic analysis following Katrina predicted that the evacuation of Democratic-voting blacks would turn Louisiana into a deep red Republican state. On the contrary, the performance of the last six months may return the state to Democratic blue. Apart from who was at fault for an inadequate immediate response to the storm, Republicans are blamed for what has happened since then. The government has actually spent only $27 billion on recovery, and none of it has gone to housing. Bush’s new Katrina spending package was drawn up by National Economic Council Director Al Hubbard.

    Continued mismanagement has resulted in outrageous spending patterns, beginning with the ridiculous prices—far above the price of actual cruises—the government paid in order to house Katrina refugees aboard cruise ships. Even more outrageous, the reported minimum cost of the trailers intended to be used as temporary housing is $60,000 per unit—enough to build permanent modular housing. And it has proven extremely difficult to get the trailers to needy evacuees, so that many of them still lie idle.

    Louisianans are also upset at the “hazard mitigation” program, by which the government would pay homeowners not to rebuild on supposedly flood-vulnerable land—using a generous definition of “flood-vulnerable.” The White House explained to Baker that this provision was inserted to make members of Congress happy. No one seems happy with it at the moment.

    Written By

    Mr. Novak was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report, a political newsletter he founded in 1967 with Rowland Evans. He passed away August 19, 2009. Read tributes to Robert Novak and his legendary work, as well as memories from Novak alumni and the Human Events family.

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