Success on Bush's key goals far from certain

Friday, November 5, 2004

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has a long list of promises to keep, and even with an expanded Republican majority in Congress, it's unlikely he can have them all.

His platform is ambitious: Remake the tax code, overhaul Social Security, stabilize the mess in Iraq. None will be easy.

Bush acknowledged as much Thursday.

"I've been wisened to the ways of Washington," he said at a news conference. Still, he confidently said he planned to spend the political capital he had won on Election Day: "I came here to get some things done."

In campaigning for a second term, Bush promised to make large tax cuts permanent, cap jury awards in medical malpractice cases and drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

That's just at home. Abroad, he faces the difficult reality of Iraq, where he's declared that freedom is on the march even as a violent insurgency claims U.S. and Iraqi lives. He's looked ahead to Iraqi elections in January as the next step toward democracy despite doubts that the balloting will come off peacefully.

His hand in Congress has been strengthened with more Republicans -- now 55 of 100 -- in the Senate, and a larger majority in the House. While House Democrats have had no power in recent years, those in the Senate have shown they can stand together to stop legislation, using Senate rules that require 60 votes to end debate.

But Senate Democrats will have to decide how to use the limited power they have. Their liberal base will want them to fight a slew of GOP proposals, but doing so could risk alienating the majority of voters who re-elected Bush.

Republicans know that, said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute. His expectation:

"I'm sure what they're going to do is say to the Democrats, 'Look, here's our idea of bipartisanship. We present the programs and you vote for them. And if you don't, we'll use the presidential bully pulpit and our megaphones and ... we'll portray you as the villains. You will suffer the fate of Tom Daschle."' Daschle is the Democratic leader defeated this week in South Dakota.

On the other hand, moderate Republicans might break with Bush on some issues, including some lawmakers concerned about the growing deficit who might balk at proposals that cost a lot of money.

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