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Congressional Report Card

President Bush and his fellow Republicans in Congress headed for vacation last weekend with smiles on their faces, beaming over a weeklong string of legislative victories.

The cause for all the Republican cheer: the passage in the House of the president's energy initiatives as well as a Bush-approved version of a so-called "patients' bill of rights."

Other parts of Bush's agenda made it through the House and Senate over the first half of the year, including education reform (minus school vouchers) and a massive tax cut which totaled a few hundred billion dollars less than his original $1.6 trillion goal.

"The president accomplished all this - and more - despite having a razor-thin majority in the House and a Senate that is now controlled by the opposition party," said a White House press release touting the administration's legislative achievements so far.

True, dealings with the House, currently with 12 more Republicans than Democrats, haven't been a cakewalk for Bush, but it's the Senate that's really been a thorn in his side.

Click here for a closer look at the Bush presidency.
Click here for a look at the 107th U.S. Congress.

Earlier this year, things were tough enough when Republicans clung to a majority in the evenly divided Senate, with Vice President Cheney holding the tie-breaking vote. But, as Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told, "the world changed when (Sen. James) Jeffords switched."

In June, Jeffords, a moderate Vermont Republican, ditched his party label and became an independent, tilting the control of the Senate to the Democrats. When that happened, "Bush lost the monopoly over setting the agenda," said Ornstein.

Even with that loss, Bush and House Republicans forged ahead, creating alternatives and using parliamentary tactics to counter Democratic successes, setting up showdowns that will be dealt with following summer recess.

Here's a look at the highs and lows in Congress through the first six months of the session:

  • Patients' Bill of Rights: Both the House and Senate passed HMO reform measures which, on the surface, are similar but differ on several details that will have to be worked out before a bill reaches the president's desk.

    The version that passed the Senate in June includes broader provisions regarding patients' right to sue and employer liability. Both versions include patient protections such as access to emergency care and specialty care as well as direct access to pediatricians and OB-GYNs.

  • Energy Plan: On Aug. 1, the House passed an energy bill that increases American energy production and reduces U.S. dependence on forein oil.

    Senate Democrats have vowed to fight as they are expected to push for more conservation measures and fight one provision involving oil and natural gas drilling in a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

  • Tax Cut: After making its way through the House and Senate, the final tax bill, signed into law by the president on June 7, provides a $1.35 trillion tax cut, scaled back from the $1.6 trillion Bush had sought. The measure lowers most income tax rates beginning this year and creates a new 10-percent tax bracket. Also included in the cut was a one-time tax rebate, giving households up to $600 this year.
  • Education Reform: The House and Senate are working on finalizing education reform legislation to send to the president for his signature. Both versions of the bill call for annual testing of students and provide more money for the worst schools. The big hangup between the House and Senate is money.

    Bush has touted the passage of education reform as a significant success, however, he's failed to acknowledge the legislation didn't include one of his major agenda items: school vouchers.

  • Campaign Finance Reform: Much to the chagrin of Senate Republicans, a campaign finance reform bill passed that body in April. The bill offered by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., would have closed loopholes that critics complain have allowed unregulated donations to flood the political system.

    A House version of the bill, offered by Reps. Chris Shays, R-Conn., and Marty Meehan, D-Mass., died after Republican leaders attached rules that the bill's supporters felt would have killed any chance of passage.

    Now, the bill's backers are circulating a discharge petition, attempting to get enough signatures (218) to force a vote on the issue. As of Sunday, 205 members had signed the petition.

Just looking at that sample of legislation, Ornstein said that "by any standard, this session has been a largely productive one" compared to past Congresses.

But while Bush and congressional Republicans are beginning their summer vacation on a high note, last week's victories are overshadowed by the stiff opposition they're bound to face in the Democratic-led Senate.

And at the end of the day, Ornstein warns, it's still too early to declare the last six months an outright success.

"A congressional session is a two-year marathon. Evaluating it now is like describing a marathon after only six miles."

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