by Bill Straub
Scripps Howard News Service
The president already has signed legislation requiring class action suits to be filed in federal court, an important cog in his tort reform agenda. And the Senate this week passed bankruptcy reform legislation that will make it more difficult for thousands of filers to protect their assets. The legislation likely will breeze through the House and land on Bush's desk within the next few weeks.
The win streak doesn't end there. It appears increasingly likely that Senate Republicans will succeed in opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling, a crucial component in the president's touted energy policy. And earlier this month the House approved legislation permitting religious groups participating in job training programs to hire individuals based on their beliefs, a big step in adopting Bush's faith-based initiative.
All of these proposals have one thing in common - they failed to generate the legislative enthusiasm necessary to become law during Bush's first term. And the prospects for all of them seem improved over the next four years. While everyone's attention is focused on Social Security, the White House is making progress in other areas.
The president told supporters in Memphis on Friday, "There's more work to do." He's pushing for additional tort reform, looking to lawmakers to institute curbs on lawsuits filed against asbestos companies and limit pain-and-suffering awards in medical malpractice cases.
"(We) did something on class-action lawsuits which will help make sure this economy continues to grow," Bush told supporters in Montgomery, Ala., on Thursday, during an appearance promoting his Social Security plan. "I think they're going to get something done on asbestos. And for the sake of good health care, Congress needs to get me a medical liability bill so we don't run good doctors out of practice and run up the cost of medicine."
The reasons behind the president's run of success can be traced to the 2004 election. Republicans had a bare majority in the Senate during the 108th Congress and proved unable to muster the votes for class action reform, bankruptcy reform and many of Bush's other conservative initiatives. But the GOP picked up four additional seats in the upper chamber last November, providing the party with a 55-44-1 edge and some breathing room.
Republicans also have proved successful in picking off the support of some conservative Democrats like Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, who faces a tough re-election campaign next year in one of the reddest of the red states.
The next big test likely will focus on ANWR. A measure to permit oil drilling in the 1.5 million acre wilderness area passed the House in 2003 but failed to survive a Senate vote. This year, having gained four new GOP seats, the White House is more optimistic. Republicans intend to include the drilling provision in the budget bill, meaning it will require only 51 votes, foiling any Democratic attempt at a filibuster.
"Congress has been debating this issue now for four years," Bush said in Memphis. "It's time to stop the rhetoric and stop the debate and get an energy plan to my desk that will encourage conservation, that will encourage renewable sources of energy, that will modernize the electricity grid, that will allow us to explore for oil and gas in environmentally friendly ways in the United States, that will make us less dependant on foreign sources of energy."