Bush Looks Ahead To A Better 2006

president bush speaks sunday, Dec. 18, 2005 in the oval office
President Bush, bruised by months of setbacks, enters the new year hoping to win congressional battles, get rebellious Republicans back in step and nurture a new democracy in Iraq, the make-or-break issue of his legacy.

Expect the president to bring in 2006 the same way he ended the old: Trumpeting good economic news and talking, reassuringly, about Iraq where excitement over a historic ballot has been tempered by growing disenchantment with the war and a death toll of U.S. troops that tops 2,160.

The war in Iraq and sluggish diplomatic efforts to deter the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea will continue to dominate foreign policy for the president, who plans a trip early in the new year to India.

At home, Mr. Bush will be after the Senate to confirm Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court in January. He also wants immigration reform, including a guest worker program.

Absent from his to-do list is a plan to overhaul the tax code. White House advisers say there may be some efforts to simplify it, but a sweeping restructuring would need more discussion. Also off the list is revamping Social Security, the one-time centerpiece of Mr. Bush's domestic agenda that failed to gain traction even though he crisscrossed the country to win support for it.

White House advisers were candid that next fall's congressional elections will cramp Mr. Bush's legislative efforts.

"When the president puts out a legislative and executive agenda, we'll make sure we reflect the fact that it's difficult for Congress to get anything done in an election year," said Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president.

Bartlett said that doesn't mean the president won't introduce fresh initiatives, which typically are tucked in the State of the Union address, tentatively scheduled this year for Jan. 31.

But midterm elections often mark the last lap of a president's domestic agenda as lawmakers turn their attention to re-election campaigns, and presidents in their sixth year move toward the end of their Oval Office stay. Already, 2008 presidential hopefuls are positioning themselves on Iraq.

"I think he's going to fall back on what he didn't want to do, what he swore he wouldn't do, but almost all second-term presidents do, which is being in a kind of caretaker status," said Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute.

Right after he was re-elected with just a 3.5 million-vote margin in the popular vote, Mr. Bush proudly claimed a mandate to pursue an aggressive agenda. "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style," he said.