Thursday, November 04, 2004

Overhauling Tax Code and Social Security Are Among Priorities

The New York Times
November 4, 2004

Overhauling Tax Code and Social Security Are Among Priorities

A day after declaring victory in an especially divisive election, President Bush said at a news conference that "I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals,'' adding that "I earned capital in this election, and I'm going to spend it.''

Mr. Bush called his campaign against terror one of his highest priorities, but also said that he planned to use his political capital to improve the economy in this country. He listed a familiar array of campaign issues - Social Security, education, overhauling the intelligence system and simplifying the tax code - that he said he wanted to work on in his second term.

"With the campaign over, Americans are expecting a bipartisan effort and results,'' the president said. On Tuesday, Mr. Bush captured 51 percent of the popular vote, compared with just under 48 percent in 2000.

Arriving at the news conference at the Executive Office Building, next door to the White House, after meeting with his cabinet, Mr. Bush said he had made no decisions about which members would stay on for a second term, or who would go, in spite of speculation about some departures.

"I have made no decisions on my cabinet and/or White House staff,'' he said. "There will be some changes. I don't know who they will be. It's inevitable there will be changes. It happens in every administration. To a person, I am proud of the work they have done. And I fully understand we're about to head into the period of intense speculation as to who is going to stay and who's not going to stay.''

Indeed, there is already talk that Attorney General John Ashcroft and the secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, are the most likely to relinquish their posts for what administration officials have said are personal reasons. Mr. Bush said he was going to Camp David this afternoon and "I'll begin the process of thinking about the cabinet and the White House staff.''

Mr. Bush, looking rested after a rigorous fight for re-election that had both candidates departing from tradition and making campaign appearances on Election Day, was jovial with the press corps, but tried to regiment the exchanges by limiting reporters to one question each, with no follow-ups.

He talked about what he wanted in a cabinet for his second term, when some current members will inevitably be replaced, and he said that in spite of his reputation for surrounding himself with "yes people,'' he actually preferred to have around him those who will not be intimidated by the Oval Office.

"They're getting ready to come in and tell me what for and they walk in and get overwhelmed by the atmosphere, and they say, 'Man, you're looking pretty,' " he said. "And therefore you need people to walk in on those days when you're not looking so good and say, 'You're not looking so good, Mr. President.' ''

Mr. Bush, asked about the war in Iraq, would not say how much more he thought it would cost the American people, nor whether the conflict would require higher troop levels.

"Our commanders will have that which they need to complete their missions,'' he said. As for additional funds, he said he would work with military leaders and budget officials "to bring forth to Congress a realistic assessment of what the cost will be.''

The president was asked how he would work toward a spirit of bipartisanship after an election campaign that portrayed a country bitterly divided and the two parties far apart philosophically. The president said that some of the divisiveness was endemic to Washington, and was fed by leaders of both parties and the news media.

"One of the disappointments of being here in Washington is how bitter this town can become and how divisive,'' he said. "I'm not blaming one party or the other. It's just the reality of Washington, D.C. - sometimes exacerbated by you, because it's great sport. It's really - it's entertaining for some. It also makes it difficult to govern at times.

"But nevertheless, my commitment is there,'' he continued. "I am fully prepared to work with both Republican, Democrat leadership to advance an agenda that I think makes a big difference for the country.''

Mr. Bush cited as an example of bipartisanship the No Child Left Behind Act, passed early in his first term, and said he would like to replicate that spirit of cooperation on other issues. (Democrats and other critics have complained, however, that the education reform bill has never been properly financed by the administration or the Republican-controlled Congress.)

Mr. Bush won re-election with the support of many people who told exit-pollsters that moral values were their top priority in choosing a president, especially voters who called themselves Evangelicals. He was asked at the news conference about the concerns of some Americans about the role the president's Christian faith plays in his decision-making.

"My answer to people is, I will be your president regardless of your faith,'' Mr. Bush said. "The great tradition of America is one where people can worship the way they want to worship. And if they choose not to worship, you're just as patriotic as your neighbor.''

He went on to say: "I am glad people of faith voted in this election. I don't think you ought to read anything into the politics, the moment, about whether or not this nation will become a divided nation over religion.''

The president was also asked about criticism throughout the campaign, and even from some within his own party, of growing federal budget deficits.

"The key to making sure that the deficit is reduced is for there to be on the one hand spending discipline,'' he said, adding that he would like the president to have line-item veto power. "The other way to make sure that the deficit is decreased is to grow the economy.''

Mr. Bush would give no hint of whom he might nominate to the Supreme Court, a question that has taken on greater significance with the disclosure that Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist is ill with cancer.

"First of all, there's no vacancy for the Supreme Court, and I will deal with the vacancy when there is one,'' he said. "And when I told the people on the campaign trail that I'll pick somebody who knows the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law - you might have heard that several times - I meant what I said.''

During the campaign debates with his opponent, Senator John Kerry, Mr. Bush was asked what kind of standards he would use in picking judicial candidates, and whether he would use the abortion issue as a litmus test. Today he alluded to that.

"If people are interested in knowing the kind of judges I'll pick, look at the record,'' he said. "I've sent up a lot of judges - well- qualified people who know the law, who represent a judicial temperament that I agree with, and who are qualified to hold the bench.''

That has not always been the view on Capitol Hill, where Democrats have worked hard to block a handful of nominees for the federal bench that they considered too rigidly conservative.