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White house claims mandate for Bush agenda
Updated: 2004-11-04 00:34

The White House claimed a second-term mandate Thursday for President Bush's agenda to keep taxes low and revamp Social Security, appealing to Democrats to help bridge America's political divide after a bitter election.

Bush reached out for the broad support of Americans on Wednesday, even those who voted against him. But spokesman Scott McClellan said, "I might point out that his arms are only so long; it's important for others to reach back as well. We expect there will be Democratic leaders that want to reach back as well."

Bush took congratulatory calls from the presidents of Iraq, Afghanistan, Poland and Russia and the prime ministers of Israel and Italy, and convened a meeting of his Cabinet.

The president told the Cabinet, "We've still got work to do."

"We're here for a reason," the president said. "It is a privilege to sit around this table."

Staff turnover is common in a president's second term, but McClellan deflected questions about Cabinet departures.

Top priorities for Bush's second term include nudging Congress on intelligence-overhaul legislation. On his own domestic agenda, the list includes retooling Social Security, making health care more affordable and streamlining the tax code, McClellan said.

Bush also invited campaign workers to the White House for a thank-you celebration.

His second term secured, Bush asked the 55 million people who voted to oust him from office to get behind him.

In a jubilant victory speech Wednesday that came 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 and family and faith."

Other items include reforms to the nation's intelligence community, halving the record $413 billion 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 Sen. John Kerry's disappointed supporters to back him even though many of his proposals are anathema to those who opposed 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."

Bush also has pledged a full-court press with Congress, where a continued GOP lock on both houses makes getting his wishes granted easier, but not guaranteed for a lame-duck president.

The disputed 2000 election left Bush without a mandate, but he governed as if he had one. The White House made clear 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.

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

Another sticky item could be a Supreme Court appointment, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, suffering from thyroid cancer. Time and energy also will be consumed dealing with the inevitable rash of Cabinet departures, likely to include at least Secretary of State Colin Powell, national security adviser 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 American soldiers have died and a violent insurgency continues, Bush seeks to fulfill his pledge to turn the country into a model democracy for the Arab world and bring U.S. 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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