Opinion: Carolina Beat

No. 793: GOP Earns a Mandate But How Much Capital Can Bush Spend?

By any reasonable standard the Republican Party can claim that it has a mandate to govern. The size and scope of the presidential victory as well as the increased majorities in the U.S. House and Senate validate that assertion.

Clearly, two issues dominated the presidential race. They were the issues of national security and moral values. Other issues such as health care, trade, jobs, and the American economy permeated our television screens, but in the end exit polls, as well as post-election surveys, strongly indicated that national security and moral values not only carried the day for President Bush but in many U.S. Senate and House races as well.

Some in the media would have us believe that the Republican Party has been captured by the “far right.” Some in the media suggested that indeed, evangelical Christians are far too prominent and that their voices and votes propelled the president to a second term. I would submit to you that this election reflected the values and beliefs of a broad spectrum of “middle America” that included not only evangelical Christians, but Catholics, Jews, and Reagan “blue-collar” Democrats as well.

Culturally, middle America rejected gay marriage, and on the issue of national security middle Americans inherently trusted Bush and Dick Cheney. Instinctively, they were not ready to hand over the national-security apparatus of this country to John Kerry.

Kerry, through a series of miss-statements and “flat-out” political blunders added to the concerns that voters had about his ability to be commander-in-chief. His non-support for the $87 billion supplemental appropriations bill to support our troops was a vote that he “lived to regret” and failed to explain to the satisfaction of the electorate.

Kerry could not pass what the political operative Lee Atwater called the likeability test. For all of the above reasons, and more, Americans were not comfortable with Kerry as a leader.

With his re-election behind him, Bush said, and I am paraphrasing, that he has earned a significant amount of political capital and that he is willing to spend it.

In his post-election press conference, Bush began spending that capital by taking on two Herculean tasks—reforming the tax code and modernizing Social Security.

Both need to be done and both will face considerable opposition and demagoguery from the Left. Also on the president’s plate will be the implementation of many of the recommendations of the 911 Commission.

Where they will part philosophical company with the Bush administration will be on the size and scope of government and the ongoing and increasing chaotic state of our borders.

One domestic policy goal—the expansion of the No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush team’s first-term signature education issue—will receive considerable scrutiny from conservatives in Congress and from some Democrats. Conservatives will see this as an expansion of the federal Department of Education and many Democrats will criticize the president for under-funding the program no matter how much money his administration allocates.

On the subject of illegal immigration and our borders, not much was discussed during the 2004 presidential campaign. However, the 911 Commission in its report does address immigration-related failures or missed security opportunities related to the attacks.

The report contends that border security was not considered to be a national-security matter before Sept. 11 and that neither the State Department nor the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s inspectors or agents were considered to be full partners in the national-security counterterrorism efforts.
Setting aside the national-security implications of illegal immigration is the high cost of using illegal immigrants for cheap labor.

According to a report released in August by the Center for Immigration Studies based on Census Bureau data, households headed by illegal aliens used $10 billion more in government services than they paid in taxes in 2002.

These figures are only for the federal government and do not reflect the costs at the state and local levels. Should the federal government grant amnesty to illegal aliens, it is estimated that the cost to the federal government would rise to $29 billion a year.

The Bush plan released in 2004 would give illegal immigrants special working permits for three years. It would reward those who illegally came to this country and would spur illegal immigration, not curtail it. Illegal immigration is an issue of great concern to many members of Congress.

The president has only so much political capital to spend. Which issues receive priority depends on the will of the commander in chief and the will of Congress.