From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi
Much anticipated Senate votes on the various non-binding resolutions opposing a US troop increase in Iraq won't take place until next week, NBC's Ken Strickland reports. While leadership aides on both sides expect the minimum wage bill to pass sometime on Thursday, no votes are scheduled for Friday because of a GOP retreat.
There's also no agreement between Senate leaders as of yet on the terms of the debate. One Senate Republican who opposes a troop increase claims that the White House strategy is to flood the zone with various resolutions that would provide fence-sitting Republicans with alternatives to the two measures that reject Bush's plan, Strickland reports. Siphoning GOP support away from those resolutions, this Republican believes, would ensure that no resolution musters the filibuster-proof 60 votes. The White House-backed resolutions could include one being drafted by GOP Sen. John McCain (on Iraq having to meet political, economic, and military benchmarks), and/or another by White House ally John Cornyn (on giving Iraq a reasonable chance to execute the new plan).
Senate Democrats Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold and their White House-eyeing colleagues Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Chris Dodd all have talked about offering binding resolutions that range from capping funding for additional troops to a six-month withdrawal.
Even without a debate or votes, Iraq will come up often this week, Strickland notes. Sen. Joe Biden's Foreign Relations Committee holds three hearings on possible alternative strategies, including one with the chairmen of the Iraq Study Group today. And the Judiciary Committee joins the fray with two sessions. Several confirmation hearings this week also are expected to touch on Iraq, including the hearing for Gen. George Casey, Bush's nominee for Army chief of staff. McCain already has suggested he opposes Casey's nomination based on Casey's approach to Iraq, giving the GOP presidential candidate a chance to adjust his support for the war at the margins.
President Bush, meanwhile, devotes two days to delivering a sort of economic State of the Union, minus the national attention, by visiting a Caterpillar plant in Peoria today and stopping on Wall Street tomorrow. Asked why Bush is commenting at length on the economy separate and distinct from his actual State of the Union speech one week ago, spokesman Tony Snow said it's "worth reminding people of how good this economy is." The most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll suggests this remains an uphill battle for Bush by showing continuing pessimism about the economy and that people prefer Democrats to Republicans when it comes to handling it (by 13 points).
Perhaps not coincidentally, Bush is expected to present his budget on Monday and simultaneously call for a balanced budget in five years and for Congress to make his tax cuts permanent, despite a recent Congressional Budget Office verdict that he can't have both. As we've noted before, one motive for him to convince Americans that the economy is strong is his need to lay that groundwork in order to gin up public support for extending the tax cuts.
Snow also echoed a familiar Administration refrain in previewing Bush's remarks today: "Over the last six years the American economy has had to endure a great deal: recession, September 11th terrorist attacks, the bursting of the technology bubble, devastating hurricanes that have crippled entire regions. We have had corporate scandals, we have had wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a larger war on terror; we have had an oil shock. And, despite all that, the economy continues to thrive."
Even as the economy has thrived over the past six years, however, it has not played a big role in the outcome of any federal election during that time period -- or indeed, not since before Bush became president. As we've noted before, in 2000, Democrats lost the White House even though the country had just experienced the biggest economic expansion in US history. (That expansion is a big reason why people now look back fondly on the Clinton presidency.) In 2002, Republicans actually picked up seats in Congress despite a recession. In 2004, Republicans held onto the White House even though there was no net job growth during Bush's first four years. And in 2006, despite all-time highs in the Dow, millions of jobs created, and a relatively low unemployment rate, Republicans lost control of Congress.