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.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. 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.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.
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 subpar. 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.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.
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.
However, the administration fulfilled promises to scale back federal wetland standards, narrowing what must be considered a wetland. It also scaled back an EPA rule 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.
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.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 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.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.
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 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.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 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.
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.
Terrorists have not struck the U.S. since 2001. But Bush's central promise to get al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden “dead or alive” remains unfulfilled.