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Just 18 Months Left For Bush

By CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller
A check of the calendar shows time swiftly running out for President Bush. Eighteen months from today, a new president takes the oath of office.

"We see this milestone as just another day," says Joel Kaplan, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff.

But he says it's "a reminder that we've got a lot of work to do for the country in that time."

In a CBS News interview in his West Wing office, Kaplan said Mr. Bush still has "a very ambitious agenda" he wants to pursue.

The war in Iraq is the overriding priority, but "that doesn't stop us from focusing at the same time on all of these other very important priorities like energy and health care," says Kaplan.

The president still hopes to enact legislation to reduce U.S. consumption of gasoline by 20 percent over 10 years and to make the cost of health insurance tax deductible up to a maximum of $15,000 a year.

But this second term hasn't been kind to Mr. Bush. Despite the claims he made after his re-election that he has political capital to spend, his efforts to pass Social Security and immigration reform bills ended in failure.

Nor do his prospects for the remainder of his term in office look any more promising.

He has all but given up on reforming the U.S. tax code — which during his campaign for a second term, he called a "complicated mess."

An advisory panel he named early in 2005 submitted recommendations later that year, but since then, they've only gathered dust.

"While there is still a compelling need for overall reform of the code," says Kaplan, "I think the most important thing we can accomplish over the next 18 months in that area will be to keep the Democrats from raising taxes."

The final year and a half of the Bush presidency also presents the prospect of more investigations by and subpoenas from the Democratic Congress. But the administration hopes it won't be hog-tied by them.

Says Kaplan: "It does require the Congress and the Democratic leadership to make a choice of whether they are interested in legislation or whether they're just interested in excessive oversight and fishing expeditions that are designed not to actually accomplish anything for the American people but rather to provide political and communications advantage in some way."

Kaplan has the right to hope, but it looks like the Bush White House is headed into a major showdown with Congress over the president's claims of executive privilege. The issue could end up in the Supreme Court

Further, the 2008 presidential campaign is well under way, and the president's approval ratings are in the cellar.

"I don't think it will affect in any way what the president tries to pursue on behalf of the American people," says Kaplan. "We're gonna keep coming to work every day, working on those issues and working with Congress."

But should we be listening in these final 18 months for the quacks of a lame duck? Kaplan says don't waste your time.

"Maybe we'll talk on January 19, 2009, and I'll think he's a lame duck, but not before then."

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