Washington's Week Ahead: Bush v. Declining Poll Numbers

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President Bush begins this week upbeat after some good news. On Friday, the Labor Department issued November's employment numbers, which showed that 215,000 new jobs were created in fields that span two-thirds of the economy. The report, which many economists greeted as positive but something short of extraordinary, nonetheless prompted Bush to make a short, rallying statement in the White House Rose Garden. Today in Kernersville, N.C., Bush will bring that message to a 15-year-old manufacturing plant jointly operated by John Deere & Co. and Japan's Hitachi.

The President's p.r. push on job numbers may test the modern adage "It's the economy, stupid." This week, it just may not be. The death toll in Iraq climbs daily. Corruption investigations are metastasizing on the Hill. Politicians aspiring to higher office jockey more aggressively for broader support. And, as outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan admonished his final G-7 conference in London Friday, increasing budget deficits and unsteady trade imbalances, unchecked, may threaten the global economic livelihood in the long run.

Before Air Force One even sets down in North Carolina, two familiar voices will have weighed in on the theme that carried the president to re-election last year: homeland security. This morning, the 9/11 Public Disclosure Project releases its progress report on American preparedness for another terrorist attack. Their diagnosis: The nation has made little headway on their recommendations of greatest import. "We may be giving grades tomorrow and I'll tell you there are more F's, unfortunately than there are A's," the former Republican New Jersey governor, Tom Keane, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." The 9/11 group is composed of members of the 9/11 Commission, who wish to follow up on the recommendations made in their July 2004 final report. Keane, who chaired the commission, and his vice chairman, former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, lamented the absence of a national crisis-command structure. They also charged Congress with making decisions about homeland-security dollars based on politics instead of determinations of risk and vulnerability. "We've had some of this money spent to air-condition garbage trucks. We've had some of the money spent for armor for dogs," Hamilton says. This week, Congress is expected to take up one element of their recommendations, a bill that would help first responders from different cities to communicate more effectively.

Congress devolved into a screaming match two weeks ago over the status of U.S. troops in Iraq. Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Tuesday, passions tempered but not abated, facing a stack of budget bills and a mandate for "restrained government spending," which Bush touted in his Rose Garden comments on Friday. Both houses are struggling with five-year budget cuts that at the moment tally $50 billion in the House and $35 billion in the Senate. Legislators must also grapple with a host of contentious policy issues before they reach for the eggnog and mistletoe. Against a threatened presidential veto, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain will continue to forcefully defend a popular bill that would ban torture of prisoners in U.S. custody. Before Christmas, legislators are also expected to undertake an extension of the USA Patriot Act, which provides anti-terrorism tools to law enforcement, a Band-Aid for troubled corporate pensions, and immigration reform, a complicated issue that splits along party and geographic lines.

The debate over Iraq's future and the U.S. military presence there will only accelerate in anticipation of the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. On Wednesday, the President will make the second in his latest cycle of speeches addressing the war on terror, White House shorthand for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and defense at home.

In Washington, the season of giving takes on special meaning in years ending with odd numbers. Politicians seeking election or re-election raise money for their most treasured federally regulated charities: their campaigns. Vice President Dick Cheney headlines a fundraiser in Houston tonight for Republican Rep. Tom DeLay, the former House Majority Leader forced to step down an indictment for conspiracy and money laundering. Tomorrow, former President Bill Clinton stumps for his wife's 2006 Senate campaign at a swanky New York nightclub. Presidential potentials, such as McCain and Democratic New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, sign their new books, which, like many others, make great gifts.