Fri, Nov 05, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Victorious Bush eyes his options

'SEASON OF HOPE' With a decisive majority in the popular vote and increased majorities in Congress, the US president is claiming a mandate for an agenda that unnerves Democrats


His second term secured, US Pres-ident George W. Bush is reaching out and asking the 55 million people who voted to oust him from office to get behind the ambitious agenda he's laid out for the next four years.

The work of making good on a raft of tough-to-keep campaign promises was to begin yesterday, with Bush sitting down with his Cabinet for their first such meeting since Aug. 2.

In a quietly jubilant victory speech on Wednesday that came a full 21 hours after the polls closed, Bush outlined the goals he plans to start work on immediately and pursue in the next four years, a period he termed "a season of hope."

He pledged to keep up the fight against terrorism, press for stable democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan, simplify the tax code, allow younger workers to invest some of their social security withholdings in the stock market, continue to raise accountability standards in public schools and "uphold our deepest values of family and faith."

Other items include reforms to the nation's intelligence community, halving the record US$413 billion budget deficit, expanding health care coverage, a constitutional ban on gay marriage and moving "this goodhearted nation toward a culture of life."

"Reaching these goals will require the broad support of Americans," Bush said, as he asked Senator John Kerry's disappointed supporters to back him although many of his proposals are anathema to the opponents of his re-election.

"I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust," he said. "When we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America."

The disputed 2000 election left Bush without a mandate, but he governed as if he possessed one. The White House made clear on Wednesday that it believes that mandate did not elude Bush this time, when he became the first presidential candidate since 1988 to win a majority of the popular vote -- 51 percent.

"President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation's future and the nation responded by giving him a mandate," Vice President Dick Cheney said, introducing Bush.

Even before the election, aides started work on a new budget, and the administration is preparing to ask Congress for up to US$75 billion more to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and operations against terrorism. The figure indicates that the wars' costs, particularly to battle the intensified Iraqi insurgency, are far exceeding expectations as laid out earlier this year.

Another sticky item could be a Supreme Court appointment, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, suffering from thyroid cancer. Time and energy will also be consumed dealing with the inevitable rash of Cabinet departures, likely to include at least Secretary of State Colin Powell, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

Still, Bush is sure to spend the remaining days of his first term and much of his second dealing primarily with the same issues that have dominated the last three years -- the anti-terror battle, the war in Iraq and the economy.

In Iraq, where more than 1,100 US soldiers have died and a violent insurgency continues, Bush must seek to fulfill his pledge to turn the country into a model democracy for the Arab world and bring US troops home. He campaigned on a claim of superior ability to lead there, but without describing precisely how he would accomplish either goal.

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