WASHINGTON – The to-do list awaiting President Bush's return to the White House on Sunday is as long as time is short.
He wants a big new Pentagon budget, energy bill, legislation guaranteeing pension security and terrorism insurance and a new Homeland Security Department — all on his desk in the next five weeks.
Bush was flying back to Washington from a monthlong stay at his Texas ranch to do legislative battle with Senate Democrats and race the clock against Congress' scheduled Oct. 4 adjournment for a final month of re-election campaigning.
"The president expects Congress to act on our shared priorities and get things done," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
Add to that yet more fund-raising for Republican candidates to build on the president's year-to-date haul of $109 million for the runup to the November election in which the Democrats' one-vote majority in the Senate is up for grabs and only a six-seat swing in the House could end Republican control of that chamber.
Additionally, quite possibly, the president will busy himself laying a public-relations foundation for war with Iraq.
Bush promised a West Coast audience two weeks ago that they would "understand clearly, as time goes on" why he feels so strongly about unseating Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Bush speaks to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 12, while in Manhattan for Sept. 11 observances, and will use the speech primarily to try to hold international support behind the war on terrorism. White House advisers were debating this week how much the address should respond to allies' objections to any military campaign in Iraq and how Bush will make his case against Saddam to the American people.
He'll linger in New York for two more days, conducting separate meetings with various world leaders, including a delegation of African presidents looking ahead to Bush's Africa tour early next year.
But first up is the Senate debate, beginning Tuesday, on the president's proposal to create a new Department of Homeland Security.
Bush, who wants the department up and running by the new year, plans to bring senators to the White House for arm-twisting while Vice President Dick Cheney and Homeland Security Adviser Tom Ridge work the corridors of Capitol Hill to beat back Senate Democrats' interest in folding intelligence agencies into the new bureaucracy. Another sticking point for Democrats who control the Senate is the president's insistence that he have enhanced powers of hiring, firing and spending at the new department.
Bush accuses the Senate of trying to micromanage the executive branch and putting their own turf worries before protecting the nation from attack. He will make a splashier-than-usual argument for having the legislation his way when he meets Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien in Detroit on Sept. 9 under the banner of border security.
The president goes toe-to-toe with the Senate on Pentagon spending as well. The full Senate is working on more than $355 billion for the military -- $35 billion higher than this year's level, but $11.4 billion less than what Bush wants, much of it for the war against terror.
On Thursday, he told Republican campaign contributors in Oklahoma that he wants the big increase "because we want to make it clear to our friends and allies and foes that we're in this deal for the long pull."
"As soon as the Congress gets back, they need to get the defense bill to my desk and not play politics with the defense of the United States of America," Bush said.
Other items that White House press secretary Ari Fleischer identified on the president's wish list for the remainder of this Congress: an energy bill that would increase domestic production of oil and gas; guarantees that businesses will have access to terrorism insurance; new pension protections; a ban on human cloning; welfare reform, including stiffer work requirements for benefit recipients; legislation making government social services grants available to religious groups.
The president's economic team is deliberating whether to seek another round of tax cuts in an effort to stimulate the economy, but some advisers said fervor for a new package may have been dampened last week by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It said the federal budget will remain in deficit until Bush's last round of tax cuts expires in 2010.
McClellan said new tax-cut proposals remain a possibility. "I think it's premature to get into ruling things in or out," he said.
Congress could stay at work beyond the Oct. 9 target date, but all sides are eager to leave Washington for the campaign trail. Bush, whose heavy engagement in congressional and gubernatorial races has rendered the midterm elections something of a referendum on his first term so far, plans to campaign for Republicans around three days a week, two cities per day, in September. Come October, he will pick up the pace to five or six days of campaign travel each week.
Through it all, he'll have a full side menu of foreign affairs to contend with other than the war and Iraq.
On Sept. 18, Bush opens the White House to Vaclav Havel on the Czech president's final official trip to the United States.
In the crucial two weeks before election day, an Asian-Pacific economic summit will divert Bush from the campaign trail to Mexico. En route there, he stops at his ranch on Oct. 25 to welcome Chinese President Jiang Zemin. In November, he travels to the Czech Republic for a NATO summit to decide on another round of new alliance members.