Mon, Jan 02, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Bush to aim a lot lower in new year

SOBER CONSOLIDATION Media and political analysts agree that 2006 is likely to be marked by a far less ambitious approach from a more cautious US president

AFP , CRAWFORD, TEXAS

US President George W. Bush is ringing in the New Year with a less ambitious political agenda planned for this year ahead of key congressional elections in which his Republican Party hopes to retain its grip over Congress.

Sobered by a bruising 2005 that included ongoing unrest in Iraq, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, a probe into whether his White House outed a CIA agent and sliding poll ratings, Bush is expected to play it safe in the year ahead, according to political analyst Larry Sabato.

"Although he does not like backing down, Bush has realized that he was too ambitious," said Sabato, a professor at the University of Virginia.

The US president enjoyed some relative successes -- the last month's election in Iraq appears to be one of them -- but Sabato says they were few and far between, and that Bush will need to temper his plans for sweeping reform.

A White House spokesman said: "The president uses this time, as many Americans do, to look back and to look forward."

The spokesman said that 2005 "has been a year of strong progress toward a freer, more peaceful world and a more prosperous America."

The US president might try to forget the more trying aspects of last year as he clears brush and bikes around his beloved Texas ranch here, but the political headaches would have been waiting for him when he returned to Washington yesterday.

"The White House is planning a very busy January," according to Sabato.

"They have to sustain the momentum gained with the Dec. 15 elections [in Iraq]. Bush can not afford to continue to decline" in the polls, Sabato said.

The apparent success of the Iraqi polls looks to have given Bush a slight rebound in his domestic poll ratings.

Despite this, many Iraqis want US troops to leave their country and the Bush administration is hoping the war-torn country will appoint a new government soon.

But Iraq is not the only cloud hanging over Bush's agenda.

Republican lawmakers are expecting a tough fight ahead if they are to maintain their control of both houses of Congress after mid-term elections in November.

A fierce congressional debate over the president's "war on terror" is also underway, and has been ignited in recent weeks by the leaked revelation that Bush authorized a secret eavesdropping and wiretapping program in 2002.

The president has expended political capital vying to get the controversial Patriot Act reapproved by Congress, but the administration and its allies in Congress have had to weather opposition claims that they were eroding civil liberties.

Citing concerns over civil liberties, lawmakers in Congress earlier this month refused to grant Bush's request for a permanent renewal and instead voted for a one-month extension.

Opposition Democrats, invigorated by Bush's woes, are hoping to steal some Republican seats in Congress in the November polls.

And in the coming weeks, Bush will have to defend his choice of nominating judge Samuel Alito to the US Supreme Court, as well as enduring likely battles over the budget.

Bush will likely retain control over the Republican agenda, but "chastened by the experience and eager to play it safe in an election year, Republicans now are preparing for a new year of thinking small," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Bush's grand ambitions at the start of last year, sparked by his 2004 election victory, will be diminished, according to Sabato.

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