Video: Bush's message

updated 7/22/2004 10:59:58 AM ET 2004-07-22T14:59:58

President Bush’s supporters shout “Four more years!” but for now, it’s unclear what a second term would bring.

The president has been offering broad-brush descriptions of what he’d do if he were re-elected — “win the war on terror,” “extend peace and freedom throughout the world” and “continue to create jobs.”

Yet, with just over 100 days until the election, Bush is keeping the details of his plans private.

Bush’s advisers say that the run-up to next week’s Democratic National Convention in Boston is hardly a good time to outline second-term goals. At a speech Wednesday night at the Washington convention center, Bush is expected to take a stab at it.

“I think the president will begin to touch more on some of the broad themes of his vision for the next four years,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday. “It would be fair to say, I think, that as we move beyond the Democratic convention and into our convention that we will be talking more about the president’s agenda going forward.”

There’s nothing preventing Bush from spelling out his agenda now. President Clinton, when he ran for re-election eight years ago, offered many pre-convention initiatives, such as putting computers in every classroom and giving tax credits for the first two years of college.

But Bush’s ability to put forth major, expensive initiatives is restrained by his high deficits and demands by his conservative base of supporters for smaller government.

Considering action on medicine
The president is considering backing efforts to allow lower-priced drugs to be imported from Canada and elsewhere, two Bush advisers say. In May, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said he would advise Bush not to stand in the way of legislation to make it legal for drugs to be imported. That decision would play well in the northern battleground states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan where busloads of people regularly thumb their noses at the law and travel north of the border to fill their prescriptions.

Bush also is expected to keep calling for medical liability reform, a position that allows him to take an election-year jab at Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards, a former trial lawyer.

One uncertainty on the health front, GOP pollster David Winston says, is whether older Americans during the next few months will embrace the new Medicare prescription card. “You still don’t know what the reaction is going to be to the prescription card,” he says. “That impacts a very important target group — women 60-plus.”

In 2000, Bush campaigned aggressively for an overhaul of Social Security, and since then, he’s said he wants to give Americans the ability to invest part of their Social Security contributions in personal savings accounts. Social Security reform is still on Bush’s “list of goals,” though it will not be a dominant issue, one adviser said.

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Immigrants and astronauts
Likewise, Bush does not mention two initiatives he announced with much fanfare months ago: giving temporary legal status to illegal immigrants or sending astronauts back to the moon by 2020 and ultimately on to Mars.

On taxes, Bush is expected to keep pushing Congress to make his tax cuts permanent. There’s no word yet on whether he’ll push for major revisions to the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to stop wealthy individuals from dodging taxes but, because of inflation, has become a burden to a rising number of taxpayers who aren’t all that wealthy.

“He’s got to have some new ideas on the economy and look like he has something to say to the middle class,” former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta said. “Right now, he’s just playing to his base.”

How aggressive on terrorism?
Internationally, the big question is how aggressive a second Bush administration would be in fighting terrorism, and whether the president would alter what some angry allies say has been Bush’s go-it-alone approach on foreign policy.

After wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is unclear whether any other military action is contemplated or whether the president would take any new approaches on continuing problems like Iran, North Korea, the Middle East and the search for Osama bin Laden.

Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned of a heightened period of alert for a terrorist attack, given the upcoming election and assessments indicating Muslim extremists might want to disrupt the democratic process and influence the outcome.

The president, meanwhile, has been claiming that America is “safer” under his leadership — not 100 percent safe, but safer.

“There’s an odd dynamic in that,” said P.J. Crowley, director of national defense and homeland security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning research and educational institution in Washington. “The administration is trying to inoculate itself in case something bad does happen. And on the other hand, it ends up undercutting what the president is suggesting is one of his primary national security accomplishments and a key rationale for his re-election.”

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