Beginning To Look At The Bush Legacy

By: AP
By: AP

(AP) A look at the ups and downs of George W. Bush's presidency on some of the biggest issues of the day:

Budget

Bush inherited a federal budget that had just posted a record $236 billion surplus, but the U.S. government's fiscal picture deteriorated sharply on his watch. The deficit for the recently completed 2008 budget year registered a record $455 billion, and the 2009 deficit is sure to be far worse as slumping revenues, the costs of the fiscal bailout and a huge economic stimulus bill promise to produce a deficit exceeding $1 trillion - the latest estimate is $1.2 trillion.

The flood of red ink has almost doubled the national debt during Bush's tenure in office. The gross debt was $5.8 trillion in 2001, but now registers $10.7 trillion. Interest payments on the debt cost $451 billion in 2008.

The deficit has been fueled by ever-increasing spending, including a wartime defense budget that has doubled since 2001 - from $290 billion to $594 billion in 2008. Overall, the budget has grown from $1.9 trillion in 2001 to $3 trillion in 2008.

On taxes, Bush's landmark 2001 and 2003 tax cut bills have reduced taxes on income, investments and large estates. The child tax credit was doubled to $1,000 per child and the so-called marriage penalty was eased.

Congress

Bush's two terms are in many ways a study in contrasts. For the first four years, his popularity and role as a wartime president translated into notable successes in Congress. In his second term, Bush was never able to cash in on the "political capital" he claimed after his re-election.

His first term was defined by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, coming just eight months after his inauguration. He oversaw the revamping of homeland security and took the lead in the war on terrorism. With the backing of Congress, he initiated military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On the homefront, Bush, enjoying Republican majorities in Congress for most of the term, moved quickly to enact more than $1 trillion in tax cuts and pass the No Child Left Behind education reforms. At the end of 2003, he advocated and signed the Medicare prescription drug benefit act, vastly expanding the federal role in health care. He also pushed through Congress a much-hailed program to help AIDS victims in Africa.

Things quickly turned after his 2004 re-election. Despite a personal national campaign, his effort to privatize some aspects of Social Security went nowhere in Congress. Hurricane Katrina and bad news from Iraq sent his popularity plummeting and in the 2006 election Democrats captured control of Congress. He was unable to advance major immigration legislation and last spring was unable to stop Republicans from joining Democrats in overriding his veto of a $290 billion farm bill. The most lasting achievement of his second term may be his appointment of two conservatives to the Supreme Court: John Roberts as chief justice and Samuel Alito as associate justice.

Economy

Bush has endured economic travails the likes of which no president has seen since the days of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. There have been two recessions during his time in office. The first was a relatively mild downturn that began in March 2001, just after he took office, and lasted eight months, ending in November 2001.

The second downturn began December 2007 and has already lasted longer than any recession in a quarter century. If it does not end until the second half of this year, which many economists believe is likely, the current recession will have surpassed in length all other downturns of the post-World War II period.

The current recession has been accompanied by the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression, prompting the government to provide hundreds of billions of dollars in an attempt to spur banks to resume more normal lending, an effort that so far has had mixed results. Despite the massive amounts of assistance, some big names on Wall Street collapsed in 2008 or were taken over by competitors. American households have seen trillions of dollars in savings evaporate while job losses have steadily mounted. The Dow Jones industrial average fell by 33.8 percent in 2008, the biggest decline since 1931.

Since the start of the recession, the economy has lost nearly 2 million jobs. Even when the economy has not been in recession, job creation has been anemic. While the recession ended in late 2001, there was a long stretch of a "jobless recovery" in which job losses continued even though economic output was growing again. Job growth did not resume on a sustained basis until September 2003, continuing until January 2007, a period of 52 months.

While the administration often cited this figure to show that the economy was prospering, job growth during the Bush years has been sub-par. Since Bush took office in 2001, the economy has created a net 3.7 million payroll jobs. By comparison, during the eight years of the Clinton administration, the economy created 22.7 million payroll jobs.

Environment

Bush came into office by making clear his dislike of government-imposed pollution limits to combat climate change, and particularly the emission cuts required under the Kyoto Protocol. And he was determined to overhaul environmental regulations, especially clean air rules, to make them less onerous to business.

The result has been one of mixed success.

Bush stopped in its tracks further consideration of the Kyoto agreement and successfully fought any attempts in Congress to impose mandatory caps on carbon dioxide, the leading pollutant linked to climate change.

But his efforts to streamline clean air regulations fizzled. Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative, which would have changed how the EPA regulated mercury and other air pollutants from power plants, was stymied by Congress, never making it out of a Senate committee. Separate attempts to ease controls of mercury and other air pollutants from power plants were struck down by the courts - as was an administration bid to ease protection of roadless national forest areas.

However, the administration fulfilled its promises to scale back federal wetland standards, narrowing what must be considered a wetland. It also scaled back an EPA requirement for reporting toxic chemical releases from factories and businesses.

Bush promised to eliminate within five years a $4.9 billion maintenance backlog in the National Park system, repeating the pledge later as president. But little progress was made. Eight years later the backlog has soared to $8.5 billion, says the National Parks and Conservation Association, an advocacy group.

In the final days of his presidency, burnishing his environmental record, Bush deemed three Pacific Ocean areas to be national marine monuments, in what amounts to the largest marine conservation effort in history.

Energy

Within weeks of becoming president, Bush directed Vice President Dick Cheney to produce a report on the country's energy priorities. It called for a push for more domestic production of oil and gas, development of renewable energy sources, reduction on reliance on foreign oil, greater support for nuclear energy and need to modernize the aging electric power grid.

Nearly eight years later, most of those goals have yet to be met - at least fully - and progress on some has fallen back.

The Bush administration fulfilled, to the consternation of many environmentalists, its promise to give energy companies greater access to tens of thousands of acres of federal land in the intermountain West. It issued 35,000 drilling permits and changed federal land-use rules to promote oil and gas development.

It also succeeded as promised to get more support for nuclear energy, prompting talk - though not yet certainty - of a civilian nuclear renaissance, and it won support for a dramatic increase in the use of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline. Congress recently followed Bush's lead and ended the long-standing ban on offshore oil drilling along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. But Bush never succeeded in opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling.

And while the Cheney task force viewed greater development of domestic energy as key, U.S. oil production in the last eight years has dropped from 5.8 billion barrels a day in 2001 to just under 5 billion barrels a day this year as imports of petroleum have increased.

Through most of his tenure, Bush strongly opposed attempts in Congress to increase the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard. In 2007 he called for cutting gasoline use by 20 percent in 10 years by making available more ethanol and expansion of hybrid vehicles. He also called for changing how the CAFE rules are implemented, but continued to oppose attempts by Congress to mandate a higher numerical CAFE standard. When Congress approved a 40 percent hike in the standard to 35 mpg as part of an energy bill, Bush embraced the legislation and said it "delivers" on his plan.Continued

War

Bush and Cheney pledged during the 2000 campaign that "help is on the way" for a military they said had been overused and misused by the Clinton administration. Then came Sept. 11, 2001 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. And now the military is more stretched and stressed than most could have imagined. Land forces have been transformed to fight insurgencies, but at enormous cost in blood and treasure.

Afghanistan was hardly on the U.S. radar when Bush took office; today that Central Asian country is a nation-building project - just the kind of mission Bush said during the campaign was ill-suited for the military. In the fading days of the Bush presidency his national security team is rethinking Afghanistan and searching for answers to a struggle that now reaches into Pakistan.

The Bush administration did reach agreement with Russia in 2002 on lowering the number of long-range nuclear weapons, but Bush is leaving office without a deal to extend the verification and compliance procedures in a nuclear arms treaty that is due to expire in 2009.

Healthcare

The largest expansion ever of Medicare took place under Bush's watch with the addition of a prescription drug benefit that eased the financial burden of millions of seniors and the disabled. At the same time, the ranks of the uninsured grew from 38.4 million in 2000 to 45.7 million in 2007.

More than 25 million people are now enrolled in Medicare drug plans, which are administered by private insurers. The insurers get a government subsidy in return for providing drug coverage.

The drug benefit got off to a rocky start in 2006, but has cost less than anticipated and is popular with the vast majority of beneficiaries. However, many liberals don't consider the benefit comprehensive enough. Meanwhile, many conservatives see it as a huge entitlement that will make sustaining Medicare more difficult without increasing taxes or taking resources from other important government programs.

Bush put in place a policy that limited federal funding of research on human embryonic stems cells. His executive order limited research to those stem cell lines, or families of constantly dividing cells, that were created before Aug. 9, 2001.

Bush sought to reduce spending on Medicaid and Medicare by slowing the growth in payments to health care providers, but he was rebuffed at nearly every turn by Congress. Meanwhile, when Congress attempted to expand a health insurance program for children, it was Bush's turn to block. He twice vetoed legislation that would have more than doubled spending on the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Education

Bush made education a campaign issue when he ran for president in 2000, promising to hold schools accountable for student achievement and to give parents "school choice," or alternatives to failing schools.

One year after taking office, Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act, which aimed to close the achievement gap between white and minority children and ensure that every student could read and do math on grade level by 2014. NCLB requires annual state tests and penalizes schools that fail to make progress.

The law passed with widespread support but today has grown immensely unpopular. It was due for a rewrite in 2007 but proved too controversial for Congress to get done.

Democrats have chastised the Bush administration for spending less than was originally promised. Spending has been about $25 billion a year on No Child Left Behind programs, more than earlier spending but nearly $11 billion less annually than promised, critics say.

The administration insists the law is working: Fourth- and eighth-grade test scores have improved, and the percentage of black and Hispanic kids reading and doing math on grade level has grown. Critics say the improvements aren't necessarily due to NCLB and that other measures show less improvement.

Justice and terror

The Bush administration pushed executive authority to its limits - and the Constitution's - in dealing with terror suspects, both in the United States and at a detention center at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Federal courts overruled the president in both areas.

At Guantanamo, the administration defied international treaties governing the treatment of war criminals to indefinitely detain, and without charges, terror suspects captured overseas. The suspects won the right to challenge their detention in a Supreme Court ruling last June. In November, federal courts began ordering some suspects released after ruling that the U.S. had no right to hold them.

Closer to home, the administration authorized a secret surveillance program to let investigators eavesdrop on terror suspects in the U.S. without first obtaining a court warrant. A federal judge in Detroit ruled the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program unconstitutional and the Justice Department scaled it back to bring it under the review of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Bush also held the line on numerous attempts by Congress to rein in the CIA's interrogation, detention and extraordinary rendition program. He signed an executive order in 2007 deeming it compliant with a law requiring all detainees to be treated humanely, and in March vetoed an intelligence authorization bill that would have limited the CIA's interrogations to only those methods approved by the U.S. military.

Terrorists have not struck the U.S. since 2001. But Bush's central promise to get al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" remains unfulfilled.

The Justice Department also took a hit during Bush's tenure, as investigations found that hiring and firing decisions at the once-fiercely independent agency was the result, in part, of White House political meddling. The firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 ultimately forced the resignation of then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Reputation abroad

Bush traveled abroad less frequently than many U.S. presidents, and always seemed uncomfortable with the pomp and ceremony surrounding a lot of top-level dealings among world leaders. The unease was mutual. Even among historically close allies such as France and Germany, Bush never fully dispelled the caricature of an American cowboy with a narrow world view.

Bush marshaled enormous global support in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks during his first year in office, and quickly lost much of it. People in Europe as well as the few allies in the Muslim world clucked that he squandered the goodwill by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was opposed by all but a handful of allies. Much of the world accuses Bush of inhumane tactics in the global fight against terrorism. Bush remains dismally unpopular abroad, despite more moderate policies regarding Iran and North Korea and assurances that the United States does not resort to torture.

© MMIX The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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