BRIEFING AND OPINION
PAUL GIGOT: President Bush made a lot of promises during the campaign. And,
starting in January, he'll have his best chance to deliver. He'll be working
with a Congress that has more Republicans than the current one, and a Democratic
opposition hurt by the loss of its current leaders, Tom Daschle and Dick
Gephardt. Joining us to discuss this are Melanie Kirkpatrick, Associate Editor
of the Editorial Page, and John Fund of OpinionJournal.com.
To start us off, I talked with two men who know the ways of Washington,
Republican Vin Weber, and Democrat Bill Galston. I asked them to handicap what
will happen on some of the toughest issues, including national security and the
PAUL GIGOT: Do you think that this election is going to cause the president
to change his approach on Iraq?
VIN WEBER: No, the president's hand has been strengthened precisely to allow
him to be more effective in the war on terror because of his re-election.
PAUL GIGOT: Do you see the Democrats becoming more supportive in the wake of
this election, of his Iraq policy?
BILL GALSTON: My hunch is that the Democratic party will conclude that this
is Mr. Bush's war to conduct and to win. There is going to be a hiatus, a period
of some months during which the president in the beginning of his second term
will be given more free reign to conduct this war.
PAUL GIGOT: How do you think the president is going to interpret his mandate
when it comes to naming Supreme Court justices?
VIN WEBER: I don't think you can avoid a big, nasty fight over a Supreme
Court nomination. It's been widely reported now, moral concerns outpaste
everything else in the voters' priorities. The place those issues come to the
fore is in the Supreme Court nomination. And the Democrats have indicated an
absolute intransigence and a willingness to use the rules of the Senate to block
nominees, even if a strong majority of the Senate favors them. So it's going to
be a real test of wills.
But eventually the country is going to get tired of a vacancy that cannot be
filled, and somebody's going to blink.
PAUL GIGOT: This is a life and death issue for the modern Democratic
BILL GALSTON: Democrats believe that the Supreme Court in the past two
generations has played an important role in establishing a regime of rights for
a modern democracy. President Bush has said that his model for judicial
appointments to the Supreme Court is Justice Scalia, or if that's too moderate,
Justice Thomas. And if he deliberately scours the country for justices in that
mold, then there will be the political equivalent of nuclear war on the floor of
PAUL GIGOT: Melanie, you heard Bill Galston, nuclear war on the floor of the
Senate over the Supreme Court. How do you think the president's going to
interpret his mandate from this election on the Court in the light of that
MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: Well, the best way to look at how President Bush is
going to select Supreme Court nominees is to look at what he has said and done.
And in his first term, he has nominated judges who are conservative and who are
of a very high caliber. In most cases they've had very high ratings from the
American Bar Association, which isn't exactly a liberal organization.
Now there have been up to 10 filibusters of his Circuit Court, Appeals Court
nominees. And that's the kind of strategy that isn't going to work with the
PAUL GIGOT: This time around?
MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: No. It won't work for a couple of reasons. First, he has
a 55 Senate majority.
PAUL GIGOT: He's still got to get to 60 votes somehow.
MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: He still has to get the 60 votes, but every one of those
filibustered nominees had several Democratic votes already. And there's a big
incentive now for Democrats -- especially from the South -- to not sign up to an
obstructionist filibuster strategy.
PAUL GIGOT: Does this include if the president would name, say, Antonin
Scalia to Chief Justice, for example? Elevate him, if Chief Justice Rehnquist
were to retire. Because he's a noted conservative, and he's not shy in his
MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: Well, Scalia is a love him or hate him kind of guy. So
he is a very divisive figure. But I think that if there were a recess
appointment, for example --
PAUL GIGOT: Meaning when Congress is out of session.
MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: That's right. Then he would have a year to sit as Chief
Justice, and the country would get a chance to see what he looked like, and then
he would be nominated and, I believe, confirmed.
PAUL GIGOT: What do you think, John, about the filibuster strategy? Because
you do have to get 60 votes, and some of the Democrats -- Chuck Schumer is
already saying, look, if the president nominates a real conservative, we're
going to fight.
JOHN FUND: Tom Daschle's defeat, Paul, tells Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben
Nelson of Nebraska, maybe we don't want to go the filibuster route. It didn't do
Tom Daschle a whole lot of good. On the recess appointment that Melanie makes a
point about, a typical confirmation fight in this polarized Senate might take
four or five months. If Rehnquist leaves because of ill health in the middle of
a Supreme Court term, you can't wait around for four or five months. You have to
have that filled. A recess appointment would do that, and if Scalia is elevated
to Chief Justice, and let's say Miguel Estrada, who was blocked from being an
Appeals Court Justice, is named Associate Justice, then you could have the
confirmation fight at a time when the country could afford it, at the end of the
Supreme Court term.
MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: One more point I just wanted to make here. It's not just
the battle from the left that we have to worry about. It's also from the right.
And we have conservative groups that are looking through the records of
potential nominees and scouring their records to see how they stand,
particularly on Roe v. Wade. And I'll give you one example of that. J. Harvey
Wilkinson, who is a member of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal and is very
well regarded and is considered a candidate -- a conservative guy. He's attacked
from the left for being soft, they think, on affirmative action. But the right
doesn't like him, either, because they find, looking back into a Law Review
article he wrote in 1976, they find a line that suggests that he might be a
little soft on Roe v. Wade.
PAUL GIGOT: Personally knowing J. Harvey Wilkinson, I actually, reading his
work, I think that he actually would be a distinguished judge. But it's
interesting. This president's going to have to walk, Dan, a pretty thin line, it
sounds like, to get the right kind of a justice.
DAN HENNINGER: Well, he's going to have to walk into a minefield. And every
mine in that field is labeled "Roe v. Wade." I mean, if you've been watching and
listening to the punditry in the last few days, that's all they talk about. If
Bush sends up a Roe v. Wade guy to overturn it, there'll be a nuclear war. Bill
Galston put his finger on it. It's about judicial activism versus judicial
restraint. That's what the debate should be about.
PAUL GIGOT: All right, Dan, thanks. Let's turn to some other major domestic
issues. Here's what Republican Vin Weber and Democrat Bill Galston had to say
about what is likely to get done.
PAUL GIGOT: The president has talked, for example, about private accounts
for social security. Is the president likely to find some coalitions of the
willing among Democrats, to work with him to pass that kind of a program?
BILL GALSTON: Democrats have already indicated that they are willing to
consider private accounts as an addition to the current system, but not as a
replacement for it.
VIN WEBER: Every speech he gave, he talked about establishing private
accounts and reforming Social Security. And I think that he knows that the
opening to do that politically is now or probably never. I think the president
understands this is really a big deal, and he's going to push for it.
PAUL GIGOT: Will he do it whether or not he gets Democratic votes?
VIN WEBER: I think you really have to begin by presuming you're going -- you
have to try to get some Democrat votes, and you have to be ready to compromise.
PAUL GIGOT: Health care. Is this something that he wants to spend political
VIN WEBER: I think so, although health care can become a real morass. You get
sucked in, and there's a lot of bad trade-offs that you have to make. I'm not a
skeptic about his ability to accomplish it, I simply look at health care as a
very tough issue.
PAUL GIGOT: The president talked about proposals that would try to expand the
field for a private marketplace on health care. Any receptivity among Democrats
BILL GALSTON: Yes. I think a lot of Democrats, including some surprises on
the liberal side, are quite willing to go the tax credit, private market route,
as opposed to a more traditional government program route. He might be surprised
how much he could achieve on the health care front.
PAUL GIGOT: Do you think the president is really serious about a major
undertaking of reforming the entire IRS code?
VIN WEBER: Well, I see him talking about tax reform again and again and
again. And he talked about it in his campaign stump speeches. I presume he's
serious about it.
PAUL GIGOT: Democrats are prepared to have a conversation about tax reform,
because they believe in tax reform. And he will want to make the tax cuts that
he passed in 2001 and 3, permanent.
VIN WEBER: That's a solemn promise to the Republican Party, and the president
made in this campaign. That's in my view sort of a non-negotiable issue.
PAUL GIGOT: You think there'd be broad-based Democratic opposition to making
the current tax cuts permanent?
BILL GALSTON: I believe that that is the safest bet. Unless the Democratic
Party simply turns tail and heads to the tall grass, which I don't think it will
do. But it's not out of the realm of possibility.
PAUL GIGOT: No tax increases are going to happen?
VIN WEBER: I don't think so.
PAUL GIGOT: You'd say that categorically?
VIN WEBER: I don't think so.
BILL GALSTON: If the president wants to make permanent the kinds of tax cuts
that Democrats have opposed, they'll continue to oppose them and the president
will probably, at the end of the day, get his way.
PAUL GIGOT: John, as I listened to the president's press conference this
week, it sounded to me like Social Security is right at the top of his list. Do
you think that is his number one priority? And what does he want to take that
JOHN FUND: He's been a risk-taker throughout his first time, whether
it's Iraq or tax cuts. He wants a legacy. Paul, it would be easy to punt
this issue to the next administration. But privately, both parties know we're in
trouble. The average male under the age of 40 is going to lose money on Social
Security. If we don't do something, either benefits get cut 29 percent in the
next 40 years, or taxes go up 40 percent.
PAUL GIGOT: As I read history, Melanie, large changes, large domestic reforms
in this country, are done on a bi-partisan basis. Welfare reform got 100
Democratic votes in the 1990s. Civil Rights Legislation in the sixties, large
Republican and Democratic votes. Can the president pass social security reform
without a lot of Democratic votes?
MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: Oh, he has to have some democratic votes, I think. But I
think he is perfectly capable of going over the head of Congress to the people
of the United States. And those people can put pressure on their
representatives, including Democrats.
PAUL GIGOT: Coalitions of the willing, is that what you're saying, on the
domestic front? Dan, where do you think the president is really going to go?
DAN HENNINGER: Well, I think one area that Vin Weber mentioned, with some
doubt -- I'm more inclined to think he'll go there -- is health care. If you
look at the exit polls, an amazing number jumps out. When people were asked if
they were very concerned about the condition of health care coverage now, 70
percent said they were. And of those 70 percent, 58 voted for John Kerry.
There's a real vulnerability here for the Republicans, and I think the president
has got to take it up along the lines that the two fellows were describing.
PAUL GIGOT: It has to be with presidential leadership, because if it isn't,
the Republicans in the House and Senate are going to step back from it. And I
would say that in the House, John, the Republicans on Capitol Hill -- Dennis
Hastert, Tom DeLay, the leadership -- doesn't want to touch Social Security.
What's the president going to have to do with his own party?
JOHN FUND: He's going to exert some discipline, like he did on the Medicare
bill. But hopefully with better legislation. Because Paul, that Medicare
prescription drug benefit bill offered zero political benefit for the
PAUL GIGOT: Nobody voted on it.
JOHN FUND: And it cost a lot. The big challenge the Bush administration is
going to have, Paul, is will they do something to restrain spending? Because if
they don't, they're going to set themselves up for real problems further down
PAUL GIGOT: Do you think they will?
JOHN FUND: I think it's going to have to come from the House Republicans,
especially a lot of the new members who get elected. They heard a lot from their
base, that the base liked George W. Bush, but why do we have all this
PAUL GIGOT: We've heard a lot about this argument this week, that it's now
the president's obligation to reach out to the center, to heal the wounds with
his opposition in Congress. What do you think, Melanie? What does that really
mean? Does he have to do that?
MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: No, I don't think he does. I think he has to reach out
to the 51 percent of the electorate who voted for him.
DAN HENNINGER: Well, the coalitions of the willing will be reaching out to
the center. There are certain issues, like tort reform, where Diane Feinstein
might come along. There are other issues where other Democrats will come along.
That, by definition, is reaching out to the center. That's the way politics
works. It's called compromise.
MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: Another big issue would be medical malpractice reform,
which has support bi-partisanly, and it might be the first way to enacting some
health care reform.
PAUL GIGOT: Second terms are historically not as successful as first terms.
They've rarely been. John, why do you think this one might be the exception?
Because the president isn't proposing a less ambitious agenda.
JOHN FUND: Well, historically this is a big deal, Paul. This is the first
time since 1924 that a Republican president has won election and brought an
increased majority in Congress. The president has a window of 12 to 18 months to
have real, serious reform. After that, of course, we start fighting about the
next presidential election. So I don't think the second half of this second term
is going to be that productive. But here we have a few months he can do
PAUL GIGOT: All right, John, you get the last word. Before we move on, let's
catch up on two stories we've covered here in past weeks. In Pennsylvania, that
bellwether swing district around Allentown that has had such a good record of
choosing the winning candidate -- well, it went for John Kerry. And the voters
of Colorado rejected an amendment to reform the electoral college by about two
to one. Next subject.