December 19, 2001

In Afghanistan, the wretched Taliban has been vanquished, the dreaded al-Queda routed. President Bush, considered a foreign policy neophyte not long ago, has overseen a superbly-executed military campaign and as a result, enjoys surging popularity at home.

Domestically too, Bush has been notching up some successes. Last summer, overcoming the objections of Democrats, he signed off on a mammoth tax cut package, many of whose provisions will go into effect over the next ten years.

More recently, he prevailed upon the House Republicans and a handful of Democrats to give him fast-track authority in trade negotiations. Now called the Trade Promotion Authority, the measure ensures that any trade agreement entered into by Bush will be voted on in its entirety by Congress. With lawmakers unable to tinker with the provisions of an agreement, other countries will be more willing to negotiate trade pacts with the President.

The vote in the House was a close affair. The GOP tends to favor free trade, but some Republicans, seeking to shelter the textile industry in their districts, balked at giving Bush fast-track authority. Most Democrats, unswerving in their allegiance to the labor unions, resisted the measure tooth-and-nail. Bush sent his emissaries, promising favors in exchange for support from wavering legislators, but the outcome remained far from certain. When the dust had settled, the margin of victory turned out to be but a solitary vote.

But it was enough. Now the measure moves to the Senate where its chances look appreciably better. Senator Tom Daschle, unwilling to hand a victory to Bush, has delayed bringing the matter to the floor, but in all likelihood, the Senate will give Bush his sought-after trade promotion authority next spring.

Another legislative victory came in the area of education. Both chambers of Congress recently agreed to Bush's proposal to overhaul the nation's public education system.

The measure, which boosts federal expenditure on education to $26.5 billion, will provide greater spending flexibility for school districts. In order to measure student proficiency and inject accountability into the system, the bill sets in place a scheduled regimen of state tests for all students in grades three through eight. Schools that regularly miss their goals will receive funds for a number of years for effecting improvement, failing which students would be allowed to transfer to other public schools or be given funds to pay for tutors or other instruction. In a nod to Democrats, Bush agreed to drop a campaign plank: school vouchers.

Now Washington is embroiled in a debate over a suitable stimulus package. Here, too, Bush stands to secure several of his initiatives, including tax breaks for corporations and sooner-than-planned cuts in marginal tax rates for individuals.

In a year marked by acts of unprecedented terror, the President has reason to be pleased with his foreign policy achievements. He hasn't done too badly with domestic policy, either.

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