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Experts Contemplate What Bush’s Second Term Will Hold

U.S. President George W. Bush has outlined a series of ambitious domestic initiatives for his second term. But even with his own Republican Party controlling both houses of Congress, the president faces an uphill battle selling his legislative program.

Recent public opinion polls show most Americans are generally optimistic about the next four years under President Bush. With his November victory at the polls, the president is confident he'll be able to push through the bold initiatives he campaigned on.

"I've earned capital in this election and I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I would spend it on, which is, you've heard the agenda, social security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror," said Mr. Bush.

Now, he faces the challenge of turning ideas into legislative reality.

Economic growth will remain a key priority for the president. Tax cuts were his primary tool for moving the economy forward in his first term. Paired with historically low interest rates, they produced a modest recovery from the economic downturn that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

But record budget deficits, the war in Iraq and the fighting in Afghanistan leave little for new domestic initiatives. And some economists warn borrowing even more money from international creditors runs considerable risk. They believe without new revenue streams, the deficit will grow unchecked.

The president's economic advisors see it quite differently, saying tax cuts stimulate economic growth, leading to greater government revenue to pay down the deficit and fund new programs.

Much of that growth will depend on factors difficult to anticipate, including oil prices and terrorism.

In running for reelection, the president campaigned hard on what he believed were his superior qualifications to keep the nation safe from terrorism after 9/11.

"The most solemn duty of the American president is to protect the American people,” he said.  “If our country shows any uncertainty or weakness in this decade the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch."

The president moved quickly after his November victory to further bolster homeland security, signing into law the most comprehensive reorganization of the nation's intelligence operations in more than half a century.

"Under this new law our vast intelligence enterprise will become more unified, coordinated and effective,” said President Bush.  “It will enable us to better do our duty, which is to protect the American people."

Better intelligence is just one aspect of homeland security. Thomas Mann, a political analyst with Washington's Brookings Institution, says there is still more to do.

"But now, we're worried a great deal about cargo containers, possibility of weapons coming in via that route, of the security of our borders, the positioning of our state and local first responders," noted Mr. Mann.

Many republicans in congress are expressing similar concerns, most notably on border security, and are demanding the president enact tighter immigration controls. In his final push to pass the massive intelligence overhaul bill, Mr. Bush promised he would. But doing so would collide with the president's own goal of granting temporary legal status to undocumented workers who have jobs. Political observers say a fight on this issue could put passage of his more ambitious domestic priorities at risk.

Reforming social security or simplifying the tax code would be a notable legislative achievement. But political analyst Tripp Baird of The Heritage Foundation suggests with as many as three of the Supreme Court's nine justices possibly stepping down, the president could best be remembered as the man who reshaped the nation's highest court.

"They're the third branch of government, and some say the most powerful because they're not elected, they're appointed and they're appointed for life or until they decide to step down,” he explained.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist has been ill with cancer and others are contemplating retirement. Should he have the opportunity to nominate a new justice, Mr. Bush says he favors those in the mold of the high court's staunchest political conservatives. Legal experts say a more conservative court could reverse many of the court's more liberal decisions including abortion rights and affirmative action.

And that, as much as anything in his two terms in office, would leave George W. Bush's mark on the country for years to come.

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