Hoping to avoid a lame-duck final two years in the White House, President Bush is openly wooing moderate and conservative House Democrats as potential allies on a variety of issues as their party prepares to take control of Congress in January.
But the president's effort is running up against a major obstacle. The Democrats he has targeted for cooperation are the same lawmakers who are most critical of the huge budget deficits and increased national debt that have been amassed during Bush's six years in the presidency. They also want major changes in Bush's Iraq policy and have pledged their support for Democratic Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi's "six for '06'' platform of major legislative items that she will push in the early days of the new Congress.
Bush met with leaders of the 44-member Blue Dog Coalition and the 62-member New Democrat Coalition at the White House last Friday, at his invitation, and all pledged to try to cooperate in the new Congress. But beneath the surface, the tension and the Democrats' pique at being ignored by the Bush White House until now were obvious.
"It was productive,'' Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., a Blue Dog leader, said after the session that lasted almost an hour. "It was a good first step toward opening a line of communication.
"But it took losing control of the House to make him do it."
"This should be the beginning of a broader White House effort to get reacquainted with the Democrats in Congress after neglecting regular consultation over the past six years,'' the group said in a statement.