Washington After starting his presidency with a focus on the safe topic of education, President Bush this week ventures into more treacherous waters: He is promoting his proposal to turn certain government services over to religious institutions, and pushing the GOP plan to provide prescription drugs to senior citizens.
Both initiatives are sure to spark intense debate as Bush opens his second week in the White House.
The president today was to establish a White House office that would distribute billions of dollars to religious groups and charities during the next 10 years. Bush wants to let such groups compete for taxpayer money to provide after-school programs, prison ministries and drug treatment.
Critics say that shifting government money to churches, synagogues and mosques so they can expand charitable work raises church-state separation questions. Even some churches are wary of government money that might come with strings.
Also today, Bush was to meet with top aides to discuss a long-range national energy policy. Aides said the power crisis in California was certain to be at the center of the discussion among Bush, Vice President Cheney, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
Bush has said the California crunch is a state problem, but by participating publicly in the meeting, signaled it is moving up on his agenda.
Cheney hinted that the administration would examine easing environmental regulations that have hindered building new power generators. "California's probably the toughest state in the country today in which to build a power plant," he said.
Later in the week, he planned to formally propose a system for getting prescription drugs to the elderly through Medicare.
Bush, borrowing elements of a congressional Republican plan, pledged to revamp the entire Medicare program, giving senior citizens a choice of health plans, including some that offer prescription drug coverage.
But Bush said this overhaul would not take effect for four years. In the meantime, he would give states money to help low-income seniors pay for prescription drugs.