Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The White House is working this week on President Bush's 2006 legislative agenda, even though most of his major recommendations will be last year's leftovers.

That's because a divided Congress, marked by post-election bickering at its worst, couldn't agree on some of Bush's most ambitious proposals: Social Security and immigration reform, making his tax cuts permanent, extending the Patriot Act's anti-terrorist provisions for another four years, and minuscule five-year budget cuts to keep the deficit on a downward trajectory.

Congress did accomplish some important things last year, despite the political trench warfare among Senate Democrats, who used the filibuster to block votes they knew they could not win under majority rule.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) gave the free-trade agenda a much-needed push. The confirmation of John Roberts to be Supreme Court chief justice moved the high court in a more conservative direction.

There were other preliminary votes that suggested majority support for Bush's remaining objectives, including an early Senate vote to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (which was blocked in the Senate's final days last month on parliamentary grounds), and House approval of Bush's capital gains and dividend tax cuts.

But it was a dismal legislative year overall that earned poor marks from voters, marred by numerous distractions: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's presumably temporary resignation under trumped-up charges of campaign money-laundering; the White House's focus on the CIA leak investigation that turned out to be much less than it appeared; the catastrophic damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina that led to gleeful finger-pointing by Democrats; and a furious Democratic offensive on the Iraq War against a White House that for months seemed to have lost its zest for political battle.

OK, that was last year and this is now. The White House has certainly regained the offensive on Iraq, as witness Bush's 10-point surge in his job approval polls. The economy is strong, with a well-timed Conference Board survey last week showing a sharp increase in consumer confidence going into the new year.

Gas prices have fallen. So have home prices, as the overheated housing boom cools somewhat. Even mortgage rates, defying all predictions, have declined in recent weeks, which is good news for homebuyers.

Now Bush has a chance to take advantage of this sunny window of opportunity to make the case for enacting the administration's unfinished agenda and maybe win one or two new initiatives still on the drafting table.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.