Bush Takes a Page from Clinton's Playbook

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George W. Bush may not know much about history. He may not know much geography. But he does figure he knows a political loser when he sees one, and he figures the plan by House Republicans to delay those earned income tax credits to pay for their budget definitely qualifies. Time for this conservative to get compassionate. "I don't think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor," said Bush in California on Thursday. Compare to Bill Clinton on the same day — "I will not sign a bill that turns its back on these hard-working families" — and you can certainly see why GOP whipmeister Tom DeLay is less than pleased. "It's obvious," DeLay snapped after a gleeful Democrat read him Bush’s comments in the middle of negotiations over that very issue, "the governor's got a lot to learn about Congress."

Or is it that this Congress has a lot to learn about public relations? The GOP wheeled out House golden boy J. C. Watts Thursday to explain that the re-jiggering only meant 12 monthly payments to these families (just like his own back in the Dust Bowl) instead of one lump sum. But factor in inflation, and whatever interest might be earned by socking the money away, and what the Republicans are offering is undeniably less money. Worse, it sounds heartless, especially within the context of an ugly budget that’s already breaking the fiscal bank in a hundred other ways. These same GOPers, of course, have endorsed Bush in droves, so most of the reaction Thursday was trying not to sound hurt ("It's a free country... he has a right to speak out," sniffed Speaker Dennis Hastert). Bush backed them on the tax cut, and his aides insisted that he would back them in the future. But with Democrats scrambling to tie Bush to a Congress not nearly as charming as he is, the man who would be president is clearly putting his "compassionate" before his "conservative."