The Legislative Accomplishments of a "Right-Wing" Administration

by Justin Ready

The 2004 election season is heating up and the public is starting to take notice. While the nomination race is not over at this time, it appears that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry will win the Democratic nod to run against the President in November. Many statements have been recorded during the Democratic Party primary about the President's agenda and we have a full three year record of what the Bush administration has achieved.

Of course much of the President's domestic legislative agenda has been ignored, forgotten, or just overlooked due to the attack on America on September 11th and the ensuing military operation in Afghanistan and Iraq. The entire government has become obsessed, and rightly so, with keeping our citizens safe from terrorist attacks. Despite repeated criticism, the Bush administration can claim victory in many of these foreign policy objectives. To be sure there is much debate about the future of Iraq and about security measures like the Patriot Act but due to the fact that there has not been another terrorist attack on our soil most would have to give the President at least a passing grade on homeland security.

However, the President's domestic agenda has been under attack since day one by people who never wanted to see him succeed. Tax cuts, canceling of former President Clinton's last minute executive orders dealing with environmental regulations, and cloning were all controversial issues that the President dealt with in his first term. A Republican senator, Jim Jeffords (VT), switched parties and changed the balance of power in the Senate back to the Democrats. America was attacked in that first year, again, changing the focus of the entire government. After a brief halt in activity on major domestic issues the President signed bipartisan campaign finance reform showing his independent streak. Education reform, and expansion of unemployment benefits followed.

The 2002 election restored the Senate to Republican control and the Republicans strengthened their hold on the House of Representatives. Following that historic electoral victory the Republicans acted on a whole host of issues including accelerating the 2001 tax cut and making parts of that cut permanent. Medicare reform also came about despite both conservative and liberal opposition in the House. The President and Congress also voted to ban the practice of killing children who would be viable outside the womb a.k.a. partial birth abortion. The President has had a pretty busy legislative term when one considers the war on terror and security concerns that have dominated his administration.

Now, the criticism I would like to deal with is the accusation made repeatedly by Democratic presidential candidates, teachers unions, and college professors, that this administration is a right-wing administration totally unfocused on compromise. They say that No Child Left Behind was a farce because it was an unfunded mandate. They say the Medicare legislation passed this year was a gift to the drug companies. There have been other statements made about the domestic agenda but I would like to focus on two issues.

First No Child Left Behind. This bill, passed in 2002, was the largest increase in spending in the history of the U.S. It was originally designed to provide voucher options for children in failing schools. The President abandoned this in order to get it past the Democratic controlled Senate. The motivation behind the No Child Left Behind Act was to correct the previous policy that I like to call "No child gets left behind a grade even if they can't read or write or add*". Racist policies in our education system have sentenced certain students to a life of relative ignorance. Black and Hispanic children in particular are held to a lower standard and are trapped in failing schools. When they do poorly on tests it is because, according to ivory tower education professionals, the tests are somehow racially biased. Well what if the tests were done on racially blind issues such as math and reading? What the Act does is force testing upon schools that are receiving government funds. If the taxpayers are sending money you must be accountable. What a refreshing change from the past!

Children in grades 3, 5, and 8 are tested at the end of school years to see if they are at a reasonable grade level in reading and math. If they have passed their classes but fail the test then the school system knows that something is wrong in the way that they are teaching these fundamental issues. If a school fails for several years in a row it can be in jeopardy of being closed and the students being sent elsewhere. The likelihood of that happening is slim of course and the idea is that testing will correct flaws in teaching these younger grades so that they can fix structural problems before they start.

This is all perfectly reasonable and completely opposed by the teacher's union leaders and every Democratic presidential candidate. To illustrate the hypocrisy, Kerry rails against the bill on the campaign trail despite the fact the person introducing him at many of his campaign stops is Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts who led the charge against No Child Left Behind by *sponsoring the bill! The President went across party lines to one of the most liberal members of the Congress and compromised to pass a law that he felt was right. We see the true spirit of the establishment liberals in the government. There is never enough money for anything and throwing money at problems will always solve them. Well, we have been increasing education funding drastically for the last fifty years. It's time for a new approach.

Medicare is another issue. In forty years Medicare, under the current system, will make up more than 15% of our GDP. Over half of our taxes will be used for Medicare at that same time. The Bush administration worked to create the largest new entitlement since the 1960's, infuriating conservatives who wanted to see more fiscal constraint. Despite the fact that the new entitlement would pay for every senior citizen's drugs up to 160% of the poverty line and help to pay for people with large medical bills and despite the fact that the AARP endorsed the bill, the Democrats in Congress and many extreme special interest groups opposed doing anything. Even though, according to their logic, this bill would have solved some of the problem, they opposed doing anything. Of course these same proponents want free drugs for all seniors and wouldn't require seniors to pay for any of the benefit.

It is this hypocrisy that causes me to want to see the President succeed even when I disagree with some of his spending policies. I personally want to see wholesale changes to Medicare and also Social Security and I don't think the recent Medicare bill goes in a new direction. However, I think the American people will appreciate positive action on these issues rather than the empty promises and accusations against Republicans that they have seen for many years.

There are other issues that I would love to get into but this is not supposed to be a term paper. In closing, the President has made tough calls and choices, even ones that his party disagrees with. He deserves, at the very least, to not be lampooned as some sort of demonic extremist. Those on the Left should open their eyes to see some of the problems that the establishment position on these issues has caused and be open to new and "gasp" cheaper solutions*even if they happen to be proposed by a Republican.

 

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