Ballot Box

The Agenda of George W. Bush

What he’d do in a second term.

Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they’re saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. The second series analyzed their buzzwords. This series outlines what each candidate would do as president. Candidates take positions on many issues, but once in the White House, a president tends to focus on the few issues he or she really cares about. The purpose of this series is to identify those issues and clarify how the candidate, as president, would address them. Today’s subject is the incumbent, George W. Bush.

1. Cut more taxes. Bush reportedly intends to cut taxes every year in office. If his previous efforts are any guide, the size of the deficit wouldn’t dictate the size of the tax cut. Future proposals would likely include an extension of the 2003 tax cut, which reduced the rate on stock dividends and capital gains. Bush would probably eliminate the dividend tax altogether, as he originally proposed before settling for a reduction of the maximum dividend tax rate to 15 percent. He would also try to make permanent the many 2003 tax cuts that, for the sake of deficit accounting, are set to expire within five years.

2. Overhaul energy policy. In his first term, Bush tried to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the Senate blocked him. In a second term, he would try again. He would encourage construction of nuclear power plants to limit American dependence of foreign energy, and he would deregulate the electricity industry to make power more accessible. Rather than enact more stringent air pollution standards, he would sponsor “market-based” restrictions on natural gas emissions. However, he would grant a tax credit to buyers of next-generation fuel-efficient cars.

3. Change the medical malpractice compensation system. Tort reform, as Bush calls it, has been one of his favorite issues since he was governor of Texas. He failed to advance the issue in his first presidential term, in part due to the emergence of terrorism and war, but he is beginning to emphasize it again. His proposal, which he presents as a way to lower health-insurance costs, would cap non-direct plaintiff rewards (i.e., punitive damages and damages for pain and suffering) at $250,000. It would limit the range of cases subject to punitive damages, stiffen the statute of limitations to make older cases harder to bring to court, and require damage payments to be doled out over time rather than in a lump sum.