Thursday, December 26, 2002

President's Compassionate Agenda Lags (

Two years after winning the White House on a platform of "compassionate conservatism," President Bush so far has achieved few of the items on his legislative agenda to help the disadvantaged, even as he has notched a string of victories on foreign, security and fiscal policy.

Earlier this month, as Bush announced that the AmeriCorps volunteer program was "expanding mightily," the program disclosed that it had halted enrollment; his proposed expansion of national service has not cleared Congress.

Meanwhile, action on major welfare, prescription drug and disabilities legislation was postponed. Proposals to liberalize immigration were dropped, a plan for health-care tax credits was not pursued, and efforts to expand low-income housing are yet to see the funding Bush sought.

The one major success on the compassion list -- education legislation -- has become the subject of a budget fight, with Bush proposing only $22 billion of the $28 billion the new law authorized for the current year.

Last year's terrorist attacks put on hold much of the domestic agenda, and Senate Democrats have blocked pieces of Bush's compassion agenda. But several lawmakers and current and former advisers say the Bush White House has not pushed its compassion agenda with the energy and determination that it put behind tax cuts, defense spending and other priorities.

"He has always been rhetorically on the right side of the issue," said Harvard University's Robert Putnam, who has been consulted often by Bush aides. "They have not yet done nearly enough in practical terms to match the rhetoric." Putnam said right-wing conservatives trumped compassion-minded aides. "The compassionates win a lot of rhetorical battles," he said, "but when you look where the budget is, it shows hardly a hint of the compassionate."

Milbank is the one consistent main stream reporter in looking beyond this administration's rhetoric.

No comments: