Four more years - What to expect in Bush's second term

Thursday, November 4, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Successful in persuading voters not to change leaders in wartime, President Bush faces a second term packed with problems bred in his first, from the need for an exit strategy in Iraq to the prospect of staggering budget deficits at home.

Bush cast the election as a matter of trust while challenger John Kerry described it as an opportunity for change.

Americans decided to stick with the commander in chief rather than switch in uncertain times. Yet, after the longest and costliest presidential race ever, the nation revealed itself as sharply divided. About half the voters felt the country was heading in the wrong direction and half in the right direction.

After emerging the winner of the disputed election of 2000, Bush behaved like he had a strong mandate and relied on his Republican base rather than try to attract supporters on the Democratic side.

With Republicans enlarging their majority in the House and Senate, there is no compelling political reason for Bush to change in a second term -- although both Bush and Kerry spoke about healing political wounds. Tell that to Democrats incensed about the defeat of their Senate leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

With Bush winning more votes than any presidential candidate in history, Vice President Dick Cheney declared the nation had given him a mandate. Secretary of State Colin Powell told his staff "it is time now to get on with the full agenda," beginning with dealing with the Iraqi insurgency.

Bush is obligated to his conservative base. About a fifth of all voters considered themselves born-again Christians, and they cast ballots for Bush by a 4-1 margin. Moral values -- not the economy, not terrorism -- was the most important issue for voters, and the president's conservative agenda got a boost from the approval of constitutional amendments in 11 states to ban same-sex marriage.

Still, a majority of Americans were unhappy about the war in Iraq and the course of the economy. Nine of 10 voters were worried about the availability and cost of health care, a problem that worsened during Bush's presidency. His first term draws to a close with the first net loss of jobs since the Depression.

With more than 1,100 Americans killed in Iraq, Bush faces the challenge of finding a way out of the war and fulfilling his pledge to turn Iraq into a democracy in the Arab world.

Bush also is committed to fulfilling a pledge from 2000 that he failed to keep, namely overhauling Social Security with individual investment accounts -- a plan that could cost $2 trillion over 10 years in transition money.

The president has not explained how he will shore up the retirement system. He also has promised to pursue tax simplification but has not spelled out a formula. Bush also is vague on how he will shrink the deficit, which soared to a record $413 billion after he inherited big surpluses.

In his second term, Bush will be looking at his legacy and his mark in history -- a spot already guaranteed by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and his war against terrorism. Bush becomes a lame duck on day one of term two. And both the Democrats and his own GOP will be looking beyond him, gearing up to find a successor.

Bush is expected to shuffle his Cabinet. He has called a Cabinet meeting for today.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson already has said he won't serve in a second administration. Powell had been expected to leave but suggested recently he might want to stay. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice could be in line for a promotion at State or Defense. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is a divisive figure considered likely to leave, if not right away, then after a year or so.

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