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Bush Versus Congress

TO millions of Americans who respond positively to the campaign theme "We need a change," the infighting between President Bush and Congress is the same old stuff.

What the public would like to see are bold initiatives in Washington on the larger problems facing the United States - economic competitiveness and education reform, for instance. The administration has made a start with proposals like its "America 2000" education plan. But such glimmers of visionary policy are obscured by the frantic positioning inevitable in an election year.

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The gamesmanship was all too evident in the uproar over the tax bill delivered by Congress last week. Mr. Bush wasted no time in battering the "tax and spend" Congress. The Democrats, for their part, hammered away on the "fairness" issue after the president vetoed the bill because it included a tax hike for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

But the politics of blame aren't likely to take either side very far with voters. The chances are good that Bush and the Democratic leaders will yet regroup and come up with a bill that will push through at least the most useful items now on the table, like the investment tax credit and tax credit for low-income housing.

With the economy slowly recovering, the president is probably right that tax cuts and hikes are best left undone. A reflexive "middle-class tax cut" was always ill-conceived. It would fail as a credible stimulus while adding to deficit concerns.

The president was also right to exercise his power to rescind spending already approved by Congress. The recision power, which is akin to the "line item veto" Bush frequently lobbies for, allows presidents to slice off spending items they consider wasteful. Congress can either go along with the White House list of items or come up with its own.

The lawmakers have generally ended up cutting nearly as much as a president asks for. This year, given the political pressures, they'll certainly follow that precedent. The process is a good check on congressional spending.

The president would not be right to overplay the current House banking "scandal." That controversy over a mismanaged congressional credit union is resulting in some needed housecleaning, by members as well as voters. But it shouldn't be used to paint the institution of Congress, itself, as corrupt.

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