President Has Big To-Do List

The first-born son achieved what the father could not - a second term in the White House - and now, an emboldened President Bush envisions using his tenure to push for far-reaching policy changes on issues from Social Security to taxes.

After a bitter, high-spending campaign measured in years rather than months, Republican George W. Bush defeated Democratic Sen. John Kerry on Nov. 2 - a clear-cut winner whose more than 60 million votes marked the most in history.

The candidate who came to power under a cloud of hanging chads left little doubt the second time around, painting wide swaths of the electoral map Republican red and boosting the GOP to stronger majorities in the House and Senate.

At noon on Jan. 20, 2005, Bush will take the oath of office at the West Front of the Capitol, the fifth time for a member of the Bush family. George H.W. Bush, the father, was sworn in twice as vice president, once as president and denied a second term by Bill Clinton in 1992.

The son embarks on his next four years armed with an ambitious agenda and a new look Cabinet, but fully cognizant of the obstacles - an ongoing war in Iraq that has claimed more than 1,200 U.S. military lives, a growing budget deficit and the constant threat from the shadowy enemy of terrorism.

Politically, Democrats may have been relegated to the minority party, but Kerry received more than 57 million votes - the second highest in history - and the partisan divide seems even more pronounced.

Republicans will be five votes short of the filibuster-breaking total in the Senate, increasing the importance of compromising with the opposition party, especially for such an ambitious second-term agenda.

Still, the chief executive is convinced he has a mandate for his policies. "I earned capital in the campaign - political capital - and now I intend to spend it," Bush said just hours after capturing a second term.

The commander in chief certainly has the GOP troops in Congress to carry out his orders as the Republicans gained four seats in the Senate on Election Day and seized several Democratic seats in the House, thanks in part to a redistricting plan for Texas pushed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

On the president's to-do list are:

  • Partial privatization of Social Security with personal investment accounts, similar to 401(k) plans, that would be voluntary for younger workers.

    Republicans and Democrats agree that some changes in the system are warranted. The nation's benefits program for retirees faces a $3.7 trillion, 75-year shortfall, and as more baby boomers retire, the system will start paying out in benefits more than it collects in taxes in 2018.

    Democrats, however, question partial privatization of the longstanding government program.

  • Making permanent the sweeping tax cuts of his first term and simplifying the nation's tax laws. "We must reform our complicated and outdated tax code," Bush said shortly after his election. Among the options to replace the current income tax are a national sales tax, some form of a consumption tax or a simplified flat tax - all alternatives certain to face an uphill fight.

    The notion of making the tax cuts permanent carries a hefty price tag in a time of record budget deficits - $1 trillion.

  • Renewing efforts for peace in the Middle East. The death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat provides an opportunity to bridge the divide between the Israelis and Palestinians. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a Bush ally, has stressed the need to move on this crisis. For Bush, all foreign policy moves will be made with a new secretary of State as Colin Powell departs and Condoleezza Rice steps in.
  • A Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Conservatives ensured that Bush won a second term and they expect him to follow through on his election-year pledge to prohibit same-sex marriage. Eleven states adopted similar measures on Nov. 2, but the constitutional amendment lacked the necessary votes in Congress.

    A number of presidents have had a rough time in their second terms - Nixon resigned in his, Ronald Reagan survived the Iran-Contra scandal and Clinton was impeached over a sex scandal.

    In his second term, Bush faces the possibility of an unprecedented opportunity: the chance to reshape the nation's high court for decades to come.

    Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, is being treated for thyroid cancer, and if he steps down, Bush would have the first appointment to the court since 1994. In fact, the president could make at least one appointment to the Supreme Court and probably more.

    Justices John Paul Stevens, 84, and Sandra Day O'Connor, 74, are considered those most likely to step aside after Rehnquist.

    Bush has already move to change the look of his Cabinet, tapping Rice to replace Powell, Alberto Gonzalez to take over as attorney general for John Ashcroft and Carlos Gutierrez to head Commerce for Don Evans among other steps.

    All will require confirmation by the Senate where Republicans hold 55 seats to the Democrats' 44 with one Democratic-leaning independent. The Cabinet choices are expected to sail through without much opposition from the Democrats.

    The same predictions certainly are not being made about Bush's possible picks for the Supreme Court.
    By Donna Cassata