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Last Updated: Friday, 31 December, 2004, 03:04 GMT
Analysis: Bush's gaze to turn homewards
By Ian Pannell
BBC News, Washington

If 2004 was a foreign policy year in the almanac of US politics, 2005 is likely to see attention focus on more home-grown issues.

On 20 January George W Bush will be inaugurated for a second term in office. Four more years as chief executive, commander-in-chief and president of the US.

George W Bush's first inauguration in January 2001
Bush will take his second oath of office in January
The inauguration will be presided over by the ailing chief justice of the US Supreme Court. Eighty-year-old William Rehnquist is receiving treatment for thyroid cancer.

With more than a little indecent haste Washington is already abuzz with speculation about his successor.

Having spent barely a nanosecond pausing for breath after the election, conservatives and liberals have resumed hostilities over this issue.

The left is worried the president will try to pack the Supreme Court with anti-abortion stooges. The right is worried that judicial appointments will be blocked and are accusing the left of a "tyranny of the minority".

I have a sneaking suspicion that the real moral (and silent) majority are not fretting about this over their turkey sandwiches this holiday season, but that won't extinguish hot collars in Washington or prevent lurid headlines around the country.

Culture war?

The story that the election of 2004 was decided by "social issues" may be fallacious but it is one that endures. Expect to hear more about red and blue states, the religious right and atheist left, gay marriages, abortion and other hardy perennials of the culture-wars school of journalism in 2005.

US soldiers inspect the site of a mortar attack in Iraq
The US hopes to be able to bring some troops home in 2005
In truth there really are more pressing issues on the political horizon and the White House intends to spend all of its newly acquired capital pushing an aggressive domestic agenda.

Top of the list will be the creation of private Social Security accounts for younger workers.

With the imminent retirement of the baby-boom generation, the pension and disability scheme is hurtling towards financial ruin. Very soon there will be more money being drawn from the scheme than there is being put into it.

Hence the idea of trying to generate new funds by allowing workers to siphon off some of their contributions to private (and ideally lucrative) accounts.

The issue is known as the third rail in US politics - touch it and you die. A little dramatic perhaps, but don't forget Mr Bush did promise reform four years ago and his plans got nowhere.

Elsewhere, there are proposals to simplify the tax code, limit the size and number of lawsuits, change immigration laws and reduce the mammoth federal deficit.

Although Mr Bush's party presides over majorities in both houses of Congress there are already signs that they plan to be rather less obeisant than they have been.

When you consider that Capitol Hill tongues are already wagging about who's in and who's out for 2008 (that's right, the 2008 election) then you realise the president will have to move with some alacrity.

International pressures

He will also need a lot of luck and hard work to keep his eye on his domestic agenda.

Incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Rice may bring the State Department in line with Defence
With 150,000 troops in Iraq, a war on terror to fight, ongoing difficulties with Iran and North Korea and a Middle East peace process to revive, it is safe to conclude that foreign affairs will never be far from West Wing briefings.

There are the first glimmers of tentative optimism in Washington that the conclusion of elections in Iraq will herald a more stable period. US military and diplomatic leaders have begun to even dare to hope that troop numbers may start to fall in 2005.

Perhaps. One thing is for sure, the American foreign policy team can be expected to be more harmonious this year.

With the arrival of Bush friend and confidante, Condoleezza Rice, in Foggy Bottom, the Departments of State and Defence may actually sing from the same hymn sheet for the first time in four years.

Howard Dean campaigns for the White House in January 2004
The Democrats must decide if they will follow Howard Dean
A final thought to the vanquished (the Democrats that is, not the Baathists). In reality the party has at best one year to regroup before starting the groundwork for the 2006 mid-term elections. Already the soul searching is under way.

The party will spend much of the next few months debating whether it should swing to the left or the right, don tie-dye and Birkenstocks or sack-cloth and ashes - should they excommunicate or elect failed presidential candidate Howard Dean as the party's new chairman?

No shortage of political questions and (hopefully) some answers in 2005.

It should be a less tumultuous year but election junkies need not despair - there's always the race to succeed President Bartlet to quicken the pulse... and if you have read this far and don't watch the TV series The West Wing I am, frankly, disappointed in you.

"Well, you see, the New Hampshire primaries are about to begin and Alan Alda has just announced that he is going to..."

But who wants to spoil the surprises of the New Year?

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