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Bush Hunts for Endgame Wins

With only a few weeks left in the final legislative season of his administration, President Bush is determined not to go quietly into the night, ordering aides to try to salvage remnants of his once robust agenda on Capitol Hill.

“It’s a sprint to the finish,” is the mantra around the West Wing, where Bush advisers are fine- tuning a long list of wishes into a narrower lineup of possibilities.

Some in the White House have come to believe that with Members desperate to get out of town and defend their seats, a lame-duck session is likely, and the “possibilities” on Bush’s agenda may become more achievable.

Topping the final agenda is the last lap of Bush’s yearlong drive to pass the Colombia free-trade agreement, which was cast aside months ago by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after Bush submitted it to Congress over her objections.

While there has been little sign Pelosi will allow a vote on the measure this year, the White House is seeking to exert maximum pressure on her to do so. Bush is personally determined to enact the legislation, and aides are scrambling to try to get it for him.

White House officials continue to voice hope for trade agreements with Korea and Panama, but with time perhaps not even available to finish one deal, Colombia is the priority.

One senior administration official acknowledged there is not a lot of hope for moving any trade deal before the election. But it could happen “before the end of the year,” this official said.

The administration also views as must-pass legislation a one-year fix to prevent the growing alternative minimum tax from capturing more taxpayers.

Aides are also seeking to ensure Congress moves a package of tax extenders that renews expiring provisions such as renewable-fuels incentives, a research and development tax credit for business, and critical write-offs for average taxpayers.

Bush aides are doing what they can to pluck as many appropriations bills as possible from Congress. But Bush so far has not threatened to veto a continuing resolution, and little more than defense-spending legislation is expected from Congress on the approps front.

One senior administration official said there will likely be little objection to a long-term CR as long as it includes language lifting a moratorium on offshore drilling.

Republicans believe they have struck political gold by trying to force Democrats to support new drilling for oil and gas on the continental shelf.

State Department officials are leading an effort to get Congress to approve the nuclear agreement with India.

But there is no appetite in the administration for acting on a major new stimulus package, even though Pelosi has made a second stimulus something of a precondition for acting on the Colombia agreement.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino left little doubt Tuesday that the White House thinks the economy can live without it, and that Bush would rather not run up the deficit any further.

“I think that we have to be measured in what we consider for the economy because, on the one hand, you might want a second stimulus proposal, but on the other hand, you don’t want to increase the deficit,” Perino said. The White House is not crafting its own stimulus plan.

The Colombia effort is being keyed by White House strategist in chief Barry Jackson and deputy chief of staff for policy Joel Kaplan, according to White House officials. They and other senior Bush advisers — including U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and top officials from a variety of agencies — continue to meet regularly to mull strategy.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, whom Bush views as the hero of Colombian democracy, will be in town later this month to press Congress for the deal, according to a senior administration official.

A kind of kickoff for the final lobbying blitz will be staged this morning when dozens of lobbyists and Colombian officials gather for a rally on Capitol Hill, to be followed by a day of door knocking and collar grabbing.

The rally will feature Colombia’s trade and industry minister and its ambassador to the United States, as well as the ambassadors from South Korea and Panama.

Also scheduled to attend are Schwab, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and at least three Democrats — Reps. Jim Moran (Va.), Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Melissa Bean (Ill.).

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