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AT HIS unusually relaxed press conference in the Rose Garden last week, President Bush sounded like a patient man - with few key objectives and his focus firmly on the long term.

Not to worry, he said, that little has been accomplished so far in what should be among the most productive periods of his presidency, or even that his top-priority Social Security revamp looks moribund. "It's like water cutting through rock," Mr. Bush said. "It's just a matter of time."

Such pacing may be appropriate for an undertaking as controversial as tampering with the nation's most popular program. And as for other Bush objectives, such as getting John R. Bolton confirmed as U.N. ambassador or putting more conservative judges on the bench, well, no need to rush on our account.

But when Congress returns this week for its two-month slog to summer recess, there is more pressing business the lawmakers should tackle with the president's help.

For example, it would be altogether praiseworthy if Congress were to pass an energy bill like the one Mr. Bush described: "that encourages energy conservation, promotes domestic production in an environmentally friendly way and ... helps us transition from the hydrocarbon economy to a diversified source of energy economy."

Unfortunately, such a measure is not under consideration. Mr. Bush and the House have endorsed the same tired old package of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry they've been pushing for years, while a Senate committee wants to survey oil and gas resources off the nation's coasts, in a prelude to lifting restrictions on drilling there.

Conservation and innovation get short shrift. The president should fix that.

Lawmakers need no urging to deal with legislation easing Mr. Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research - much to the president's dismay, a powerful momentum appears to be driving the bill toward speedy passage and a threatened veto. Such a clash could be avoided, however, if Mr. Bush helped craft a more flexible compromise than his outmoded 2001 proposal.

On the international front, no tragedy cries out more insistently for attention than that of Darfur, where more than 3 million displaced villagers are depending on outside help for food that isn't available in adequate supplies. Meanwhile, the Sudanese government is arresting aid workers who report rapes of villagers by soldiers and militiamen.

Time is clearly running out there. Mr. Bush hasn't exerted the force necessary to pressure the Sudanese government to stop the killing and allow Darfur villagers to return to their homes. He shouldn't delay in rallying the international community.

Sometimes impatience is a virtue.

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