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WASHINGTON TODAY: Bush-Congress Relations Are on a Rocky Road

July 31, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush says he’s not too happy with the way things are turning out between himself and Congress, but then, ″Nobody ever said it would be easy.″

Bush’s resigned commentary came as he emerged from a rough stretch that saw his policy positions - from military spending to savings and loan bailout - undergo a trouncing on Capitol Hill.

″I would not give Congress very high marks on doing what I want done on legislation,″ Bush told reporters in a news conference Friday when he was asked to rate his legislative success.

But in keeping with his repeated comments about wanting to work harmoniously with the Democratic-controlled Congress, Bush said he would not get into personal criticism.

″I have to work with these people,″ the president said. ″I have never been too hot at being a name-caller.″

After spewing anti-Congress rhetoric with gusto during his presidential campaign last year, Bush launched his presidency with an inaugural address calling for a bipartisan working spirit between the White House and Congress. The American people do not want to see their leaders bickering, the new president said.

But Democrats now say such conciliatory language belies an unsettling pattern in which Bush takes the high road while his aides and Republican allies undermine legislative agreements.

″Bush wants ‘kinder and gentler’ while his people are gnawing your legs off,″ said Rep. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

The president has encountered several rough patches recently on Capitol Hill.

Last Thursday, the House scrambled the administration’s defense spending priorities by slashing key weapons systems Bush wants and adding money for others that he wants to cut out.

Also last week, House and Senate negotiators agreed on a savings and loan bailout plan, but dealt Bush a setback by rejecting a funding mechanism he sought to keep the billions of bailout dollars out of the federal budget.

Bush complained Congress has dragged its feet on the bailout. He sent his plan to the lawmakers in February with a request for urgent action within 60 days. After more than five months, the package heads to the Senate floor this week.

On another front, lawmakers are moving ahead with legislation against flag- desecration, in lieu of the constitutional amendment that Bush favors. The House Judiciary Committee last week blocked consideration of a constitutional amendment and passed the legislative approach.

In addition, several of Bush’s administration nominees are getting a harsh reception in confirmation hearings. Several ambassadorial nominees have been criticized as unqualified, and Bush’s choice to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division, William Lucas, is up against strong opposition.

Some lawmakers criticize Bush for making expensive legislative promises - such as his call for missions to the moon and Mars - and leaving Congress to figure out how to pay for them.

″I think the president is going to find his good will here is going to diminish,″ said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.

Still, the president voices a desire for compromise and negotiation.

He said Friday that if he can’t get the capital gains tax cut he wants, ″let’s see what can be worked out.″

″If there is some compromise that can spur investment, spur jobs, increase employment because of new jobs starting up, I’d be interested in it,″ he said.

And he did not specifically say he would veto a bill outlawing desecration of the flag, although didn’t say he would sign it either.

But the president is skating on thin ice with many Democrats who say the administration is talking out of both sides of its mouth.

More than 80 Democrats cried foul in a letter to Bush on Friday saying the National Republican Congressional Committee issued news releases blasting more than 20 of them for voting last month to support the president’s position against random drug testing for State Department employees.

House Minority Leader Robert Michel, R-Ill., acknowledged that White House Chief of Staff John Sununu is in on a strategy ″to develop the wedge issues″ such as the flag to put Democrats on the defensive.

″That does not bode well for a bipartisan working relationship with the new Democratic leadership team″ in the House, said Rep. Beryl Anthony, D- Ark., chairman of the party’s House campaign organization.

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