Washington Contending Americans have embraced his conservative agenda, President Bush pledged Thursday to aggressively pursue major changes in Social Security, the tax code and medical malpractice awards, working with Democrats if they are receptive and leaving them behind if they're not.
"I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it," Bush said a day after a decisive victory that made him the first president in 68 years to win re-election and gain seats in both the House and Senate.
"I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals," said Bush, who 24 hours earlier had promised to try to win over those who voted for his Democratic opponent.
Buoyant and relaxed Thursday, Bush cracked jokes at his first post-election news conference and said he had not decided on any changes in his Cabinet for the second term. He took congratulatory calls from world leaders in Russia, Poland, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and Italy before flying to Camp David for four days of rest after the grueling campaign.
As U.S. forces in Iraq mobilize for an all-out offensive in Fallujah and other Sunni militant strongholds, the president refused to say how much the war would cost or whether he planned to increase or cut troop strengths.
"I have yet to hear from our commanders on the ground that they need more troops," the president said. He is expected to ask Congress early next year for up to $75 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan and operations against terrorism.
The president was unapologetic about the unpopularity of his decisions in many world capitals, such as his commitment to spread democracy in the Middle East.
"Listen, I've made some very hard decisions: decisions to protect ourselves, decisions to spread peace and freedom." The war on terror would remain a priority, he said.
Bush said that at home, he had set an unmistakable direction for the country and he emphasized anew he did not foresee the need for any tax increase despite large budget deficits.
Coming from a campaign that offered clear policy choices, Bush said, "When you win, there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view, and that's what I intend to tell the Congress."
He urged lawmakers to show discipline on spending bills and to enact an intelligence reform bill when they return to town later this month.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats were stunned by some unexpected losses in the Senate and the defeat of their leader, Tom Daschle, an 18-year veteran. Republicans also gained seats in the House.
Democrats promised to challenge Bush's priorities.
"What the president is doing in fiscal policy is weakening the country, making us more vulnerable. It's so strange," said Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee. "There's no free lunch, and at the end of the day our country will have a tremendous price to pay for this profligacy."
Said Bush, "I readily concede I've laid out some very difficult issues for people to deal with. And I would hope to be able to work with Democrats to get this done."
In setting priorities, Bush said some issues would be at the front of the line simply because they had been at the center of the political arena before. Capping medical malpractice limits, a prized goal of Republicans, will be one of his first proposals because it "had been debated and got thwarted a couple of times," the president said.
In an election where voters said moral values were the primary issue, Bush cautioned against suggestions that the United States was becoming politically divided by religion.
"I will be your president regardless of your faith, and I don't expect you to agree with me necessarily on religion," Bush said. "As a matter of fact, no president should ever try to impose religion on our society. ... The great thing that unites is the fact you can worship freely if you choose."
|President Bush has an ambitious second-term agenda that will be helped by Republican gains in Congress, but he faces strong opposition on a variety of issues.Simplify the tax codeSays he'll appoint a commission to address complicated codes and tax forms.Reform Social SecurityPlans to partially privatize program and let younger people invest in the stock market.Make tax cuts permanentWants to extend tax cuts set to expire in 2010 at a cost of $1 trillion over 10 years.Energy legislationWants to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.Democracy to IraqLooking for peaceful elections in January in trying to make Iraq a successful democracy.|