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The Bush II agenda takes shape

He signals plans to fix Social Security system, revamp tax code, and update school reforms.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 5, 2004


President Bush seems determined to begin his second term with a burst of political energy.

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Perhaps mindful that reelected presidents can lose power quickly, Mr. Bush has already outlined a domestic agenda that in some ways is more ambitious than the one he laid out four years ago.

From reform of the tax code and Social Security to updates for the No Child Left Behind education law, the items the president has mentioned touch on some of the most fundamental aspects of American government. If all are enacted, history might judge the Bush presidency a conservative counterpart to Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society.

But that is a very large "if." As LBJ found, foreign-policy struggles can overwhelm the best-laid domestic plans. And many of the details of Bush's agenda - such as his proposal to add personal retirement accounts to Social Security - are anathema to Democrats. In the wake of victory, Bush has vowed to unite the nation, but his domestic plans could prove divisive.

On Wednesday, only hours after his victory was finally assured, President Bush said that he had a lengthy "to-do" list for his second term. "We'll reform our outdated tax code. We'll strengthen ... Social Security for the next generation. We'll make public schools all they can be. And we will uphold our deepest values of family and faith," said Bush.

At a press conference on Thursday Bush reiterated this list, and said again that he intends to unite, not divide, the nation. "The campaign over, Americans are expecting a bipartisan effort and results. I will reach out to everyone who shares our goals," Bush said.

The president sidestepped questions about Cabinet changes and the Supreme Court. But filling a possible vacancy on the high court could be one of the first items of his second term agenda. Details of this and other aspects of the Bush domestic agenda follow:


With an ailing chief justice at the US Supreme Court and a larger Republican majority in the Senate, the big question in the judiciary is whether Bush in his second term will aggressively seek to place conservatives on the federal bench - including at the nation's highest court.

Senate Democrats have blocked ten Bush appeals court nominees with filibusters, preventing up or down floor votes for confirmation. Many conservatives view this as as unfair, and it may have contributed to the defeat of Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, an architect of the filibusters.

But not all Republicans are thrilled with the prospect of all-out warfare in the Senate over judicial appointments. Sen. Arlen Specter, expected to become the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has warned the president against naming nominees who might be too conservative to win broad Senate support.

The issue takes on a new sense of urgency amid reports earlier this week that Chief Justice William Rehnquist's recently disclosed battle with cancer may be more serious than initially thought. A Rehnquist retirement would raise two issues. First, who should become the next chief justice? And second, if the new chief justice is selected from among the existing justices, who from outside should join the court?

Since Rehnquist is a solid member of the court's conservative wing, his departure and replacement with even a Rehnquist clone would not threaten to undermine landmark liberal precedents on abortion, affirmative action, and gay rights, among others. But his replacement by someone who is more moderate than Rehnquist could jeopardize landmark rulings important to conservatives, such as the recent 5-4 federalism decisions reasserting sovereign state power in the face of federal encroachment. If the White House seeks to protect such conservative rulings, the stage may thus be set for major nomination battles in the Senate.


President Bush talks of tax reform, especially the popular idea of tax simplification. Getting any such bill through Congress, though, will be hard, despite enlarged GOP majorities in both houses.

President Reagan managed to get a widely praised tax simplification measure passed in 1986. But Reagan sweetened the legislation by including personal income tax cuts, especially large for upper income people, recalls Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute in Washington.

Bush said Thursday that he wanted tax simplification to be revenue neutral. The revenue costs of the Reagan cuts, with the same goal in mind, were offset by higher taxes on business. But corporate executives, seeing their personal taxes slashed, went along with the reform bill.