Even privately, with the political and policy debacle that the White House created with its Clintonian response to Hurricane Katrina, policy and political types at 1600 Pennsylvania insist what’s left of an agenda is still viable.
But at this stage of the game, barring some imaginative political moves that bear some resemblance to the Bush Administration circa 2002, Republicans on Capitol Hill and even some longtime Bush team members in various Cabinet level departments say this Administration is done for.
“You run down the list of things we thought we could accomplish and you have to wonder what we thought we were thinking,” says a Bush Administration member who joined on in 2001. “You get the impression that we’re more than listless. We’re sunk.”
Too pessimistic? Maybe not. Rumors are flying through various departments of longtime senior Bush loyalists looking to jump, but with few opportunities in the private sector to make the jump look like anything more than desperation. Almost daily, complaints from Cabinet level Departments come in to the White House about lack of communication coordination on even basic policy matters.
“What happened was that some of the best people who were working in the Administration during the first term, but who weren’t necessarily Bush campaign members or weren’t particularly close to the White House, jumped when they saw opportunities being filled by under-qualified but more politically connected people,” says a current Administration senior staffer in a Cabinet department. “In this department we lost three quarters of the people who should have been encouraged to stay, and most of them left simply because they had received no indication they would be considered for better or different opportunities. And many of these folks would have stayed.”
But enough about the lack of a team to implement a message. Let’s look at the mission.
Congressional committee sources on both sides of Capitol Hill predict tough slogging on anything of policy consequence. “Social Security is dead as far as my chairman is concerned. So are the tax cuts,” says a Ways and Means staffer of Chairman Bill Thomas.
Before hurricane season wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast and in Washington, the thinking was that Thomas was poised to take up a major tax bill that might feature several critical components of the Bush Administration’s Social Security reform. Now those plans appear to have dimmed considerably.
According to one school of thought, some GOP tax policy changes might have contributed to a more market-oriented approach to reconstruction efforts in the Katrina recovery. Instead, Republicans were stunned to hear about programs that read as if cribbed from the Clinton Administration.
Although Republicans on the Hill are left with a bit of wiggle room to make adjustments to the Bush proposals, they will need political cover if they are to successfully navigate a path made difficult by the Bush team’s allowing the media and Democrats to paint the GOP into a corner.p>