Donald Lambro

Iraq and the war on terrorism remain at the top of his agenda and will loom over the year's events. Visible success in Iraq will strengthen his hand in Congress and his party's credibility on national security, too, as they prepare for the midterm elections.

Certainly Social Security reform, which dominated last year's domestic debate, is going nowhere for now, but that clears the deck for other doable legislation.

Making the tax cuts permanent is paramount. It is the signature economic issue in Bush's presidency, it's responsible for the 4 percent growth we're experiencing, and if the lowered rates are allowed to expire at the end of this decade, just about everyone's taxes will go up.

Republicans are virtually united on this issue and there are a number of Democrats, especially in the Senate, who do not want to vote for higher taxes in an election year.

Broader tax reform proposed by last year's presidential commission, which is being redrafted at the U.S. Treasury, is a far bigger challenge. But Bush loses nothing by putting it on his agenda, identifying his party with income tax simplification and pro-growth rate reductions. It is a populist issue to run on and use against the Democrats who define tax reform as raising the rates.

Finally, getting control of spending and chipping away at the deficit is still an important issue to many Americans, particularly in the GOP's base. The $39 billion House-passed budget-cutting bill isn't going to pass the Senate in its present form, but the votes are there for gradual year-by-year reductions in the rate of spending increases. Bush needs to make this a bigger issue than he has in the past.

Meanwhile, two sea-change reforms will take place this year no matter what happens to Bush's agenda.

First, the Medicare prescription benefits program gets going in earnest, with a major government effort to make the available choices clearer to seniors. That's going to have a very positive impact on one of the nation's pivotal voting blocs that could give the GOP the edge in November.

Second, Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr., will be confirmed, moving the court further to the right, just as Bush planned to do. If he accomplishes little else this year, that will stand as a ground-breaking change in the high court's makeup for many years to come.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.