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Despite 9/11, Bush comes through on top 2 promises

SHARE Despite 9/11, Bush comes through on top 2 promises

WASHINGTON — President Bush delivered on his top two campaign promises in his first year, tax cuts and education. Other items on his must-do list became can't-do-right-now.

First came the loss of the Senate to the Democrats. Down went Bush's "charitable choice" plan to give religious groups more money to perform social services.

Then came Sept. 11. War and terrorism have sucked up most of Bush's energy and focus ever since, even as the recession, the war and — Democrats contend, the tax cuts — emptied out the budget surplus. Some of his pledges, however, were getting bogged down absent those profound distractions.

A look at a selection of Bush's campaign promises — the kept, the slowly progressing, the set aside:

Social Security: One of Bush's marquee pledges — the one that cast him most dramatically against the status quo — was to let younger workers use some of their Social Security taxes to build private retirement accounts. That would mean less money going into Social Security and less being paid out.

It won't happen any time soon.

Last month, a White House advisory panel that studied the issue offered proposals to introduce the accounts, but suggested Congress take a year to study them.

The idea of diverting Social Security money into private investments sounded great when a buoyant stock market held out the promise of lucrative returns. But the market turned shaky after the election and last month's collapse of energy giant Enron came as a reminder of how quickly the mighty can fall, taking investments down, too.

Advocates of private accounts say the investments would be protected from such disasters, but that's a hard sell now.

Health care: In his first month in office, Bush came out with his "Immediate Helping Hand" plan, acting on his campaign pledge to subsidize prescription drugs for the elderly poor. It was to be a short-term fix until Medicare was overhauled and bigger changes put in place.

Congress did not approve it; Bush says he will still try.

He also has not prevailed on his version of a patients' rights bill or his pledge for a $2,000 tax credit to help low-income working Americans buy health insurance.

Missile defense: Bush pledged in the campaign to build a national missile defense that would be of a much larger scale than is allowed under the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He said he'd get the United States out of the 1972 treaty if Russia would not agree to change it. Opponents worry that an ambitious missile defense would spark an arms race to overcome it.

When he failed to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to change the treaty, Bush in December gave Russia formal notice that the United States was withdrawing from the treaty in six months' time. Still, the two leaders continue feeling each other out on the matter and have not let it spoil relations.

Nuclear arms: Candidate Bush surprised arms experts and Democratic opponent Al Gore by proposing deep — if unspecified — cuts in nuclear arms and suggesting he would go ahead with them even if Russia didn't.

As president, Bush has pledged to reduce U.S. nuclear warheads to as few as 1,700 from the current 7,000. But there's a catch: They may be mothballed, not destroyed.

Education: Bush gave Congress his education package three days after taking office, fought for it and got most of it. He had to give up, though, on one major element: his proposal to let federal money be used for private schooling when a student is trapped in a bad public school.

He achieved standardized testing of students, with states to be financially rewarded or punished for student performance. Students in persistently failing public schools will be able to transfer to another public school, with federal aid for transportation.

Families can save tax-free for education expenses, but only $2,000 per child per year; Bush wanted $5,000.

Energy: Bush the candidate promised to increase domestic production and exploration, including in the protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The president's plan to spur petroleum has not become law or fact. Also, he's not persuaded Congress to approve drilling in the refuge, but he hasn't tried that hard yet.

Environment: Bush got the United States out of the Kyoto agreement on global warming, as he said he would. He said he'd work for voluntary greenhouse gas reductions; little has been seen from the White House on that. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christie Whitman said the administration's climate control plans "got knocked off-track by Sept. 11, but the president's very interested."

Bush broke his campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants as a pollutant.

Civility: The candidate promised to change the tone in Washington. On Sept. 11, rancor vanished.

Even before then, the poisonous atmosphere that existed between President Clinton and Republican firebrands at the height of that president's scandals had indeed dissipated. But some Democrats, granting Bush his charms, also found him unbending.

After Sept. 11, argument gradually resumed, mainly on domestic policy. Care is still taken to avoid criticizing Bush on matters related to his duties as commander in chief.

Conservative activist Paul Weyrich advised Bush in an open letter last week to stop being so nice. Praising Democrats will only help get them re-elected, he said. "If you must praise leaders who are your ideological enemies, do it in private."

Taxes: Bush achieved most of his promised across-the-board tax cuts, which unfold over 10 years at an expected cost of $1.35 trillion. Promoted in a time of economic growth and budget surpluses, the cuts are kicking in during recession and deficits, and Bush may have to fight to keep the package intact.