Bush looks to terrorism, policy for a second term
The agenda to come
By John King
NEW YORK (CNN) -- There is little doubt what would most motivate President Bush if he gets four more years.
"We must aggressively pursue them and defeat them in foreign lands, so we do not have to face them here at home," is how Bush put it in a recent campaign speech in Iowa, promising to continue an aggressive war on terrorism.
But as he makes his case for re-election, Bush also offers a list of domestic policy priorities for a second term - a list shaped significantly by the unfinished, and contentious, agenda of his first four years.
For example, Bush credits his signature tax cuts with helping pull the economy out of recession. But those cuts are slated to expire, most after 10 years, and Bush has said pushing Congress to make them permanent is a major goal.
That push, however, gets less emphasis in campaign speeches these days. Support wasn't strong enough in the Republican-controlled Congress to make the tax cuts permanent this year. Bush has shifted his campaign strategy and is now suggesting that a victory by Democrat John Kerry would lead to bigger government and higher taxes.
White House aides say Bush will offer details of his second-term agenda when he speaks to the Republican National Convention on Thursday. These aides say the proposals will be consistent with themes already highlighted by the president and will reflect his pledge to slice the record budget deficit in half.
The transition from surplus to deficit on Bush's watch has made it more difficult to win support for costly new initiatives. It also has become a source of quiet friction with fiscal conservatives who love the president's tax cuts but believe he must make a stronger effort to rein in federal spending.
Asked about priorities for a second Bush term, David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said: "He's going to do the international things he needs to do but he is also going to try to get control of domestic spending, which frankly he has to do because it is increasing at a rate that nobody projected. This is the fastest increase in many, many years."
Other domestic priorities Bush lists for a second term are:
*Energy policy: The administration's energy plan stalled on Capitol Hill, in part because of opposition to calls for more domestic oil and gas exploration, especially in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Bush has promised to push again if re-elected.
*Faith-based initiative: The president's call for more government money to flow to churches and other religious organizations that provide social services also stalled in Congress -- and the push would carry over to a second term.
*Medical liability overhaul: This is yet another first-term proposal that lacks enough support in Congress. Bush says it is critical to place caps on damages in medical malpractice suits -- and in drawing a contrast with Sen. Kerry refers to the Democrat's choice of former trial lawyer Sen. John Edwards to share his ticket.
"My opponent made his choice, and he put him on the ticket," Bush says. "I made my choice, and I am for medical liability now."
*Health care: "We've got to do more to make sure quality health care is available and affordable," is a staple line in the president's stump speech. Among the Bush proposals is to allow small businesses to pool together to buy coverage, an arrangement know as association health plans.
On the world stage, one interesting test if Bush wins a second term would be his ability to manage strains in longtime alliances because of the war in Iraq and other first-term Bush administration decisions.
Sen. Kerry criticizes Bush for ignoring and abusing longtime alliances. Although Bush rejects that label, even his closest supporters concede he is angered by repeated criticism from some international leaders, perhaps chief among them President Jacques Chirac of France.
"It's not unfair to say he doesn't forget, but that doesn't necessarily translate into holding a grudge," said Bush-Cheney political adviser Mary Matalin. She said Bush always puts the country's interests ahead of personal differences or rivalries.
"He's not going to hold it against whoever said whatever about him," Matalin said. "But it's a good thing not to forget, and it's a good thing to know who your friends are."