Bush to spend the New Year at Texas ranch
CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- During President Bush's last prolonged stay in Texas, the White House took pains to stress that the monthlong break was really a "working vacation." Now, as Bush spends the New Year holiday on his 1,600-acre ranch, there is little doubt that the president has a busy agenda.
In August, Bush was preoccupied with such issues as education reform, embryonic stem cell research, and Social Security reform. Four months later, as Bush works on his first State of the Union address -- which he is to deliver to Congress in January -- the challenges facing him and the United States have shifted dramatically.
There is the ongoing war on terrorism and the continued search for Osama bin Laden and other top leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist network, as well as Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of Afghanistan's defeated Taliban regime.
In addition, there is the consideration of widening the war on terrorism to other fronts beyond Afghanistan and al Qaeda.
On the domestic front, Bush is facing an ongoing recession. He will have to decide how hard to push for an economic stimulus plan once Congress returns from its winter recess in late January. His efforts to hammer a compromise deal failed to gain support from Senate Democrats. Before leaving Washington, he indicated that a renewed push on economic stimulus would depend on how the economy is doing at that time.
The administration also is gearing up for next year's budget, one bound to be strained by the slumping economy and the increased need to fight the war on terrorism both abroad and at home.
Top White House officials also have said Bush may be busy during his time in Crawford considering recess appointments for key nominations that have not been confirmed by the Senate. Recess appointments would allow Bush to bypass the Senate confirmation process.
That process could be used to put Otto Reich in the post of assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and Eugene Scalia -- the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia-- in as Labor Department solicitor. The White House has complained that the Senate has taken too long in confirming these and other Bush nominees.
While in Texas with first lady Laura Bush over the next week, the president intends to keep a low profile for the most part. No doubt, he'll enjoy the ranch's natural isolation and go for jogs on its trails.
Yet, he will be conferring with advisers and getting daily briefings on the issues at hand. And no one has had to stress that this stretch of time off from Washington will be a working vacation.
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