Bush calls on Democrats to work with him

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush, facing a Democratic-controlled Congress for the first time, is urging lawmakers to work with his administration and warning that “political statements” in the form of legislation would result in a stalemate.

“Together, we have a chance to serve the American people by solving the complex problems that many don’t expect us to tackle, let alone solve, in the partisan environment of today’s Washington,” Bush wrote in a guest column for The Wall Street Journal posted on the newspaper’s Web site Tuesday night.

“To do that, however, we can’t play politics as usual,” he said. “Democrats will control the House and Senate, and therefore we share the responsibility for what we achieve.”

Bush, while sounding a tone of bipartisanship on the eve of the new session of Congress that begins Thursday, repeated long-held positions on the war in Iraq, tax cuts and other issues often criticized by Democrats. He has vetoed only one bill, but he reminded readers that the Constitution calls on the president to use his judgment in deciding which bills to sign into law.

‘Next two years can be fruitful’
“If the Congress chooses to pass bills that are simply political statements, they will have chosen stalemate,” Bush wrote. “If a different approach is taken, the next two years can be fruitful ones for our nation. We can show the American people that Republicans and Democrats can come together to find ways to help make America a more secure, prosperous and hopeful society.”

Bush planned to meet with his Cabinet to discuss domestic priorities on Wednesday and to court key lawmakers at a social reception that evening. He is under pressure to announce a new Iraq strategy, although officials say he is still making decisions and will not reveal any changes this week, and is expected to say he is sending additional U.S. troops to Iraq.

Wednesday’s schedule represents Bush’s official return to work after a Christmas vacation at his Texas ranch. Bush spoke at the funeral of President Ford on Tuesday but remained out of sight the remainder of the day.

In a seismic shift of power, Democrats will claim control of both the House and Senate on Thursday for the first time in 12 years. Eager for their turn at power, Democrats have complained that Bush has kept them at arms length and has not consulted on key decisions. Even a senior Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, said on Sunday that Bush has been inclined “to not take Congress very seriously” on Iraq policy.

Bush invited about a dozen members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — and their spouses to a reception Wednesday evening. Officials said it was a social gathering, not what Bush was talking about last week when he said he planned more consultations with Congress before announcing a new Iraq plan. The consultations will take place later, officials said.

Minimum wage increase?
In recent weeks, Bush has signaled a willingness to go along with a Democratic priority for raising the minimum wage, if it is accompanied by tax and regulatory relief for small businesses. Bush also has suggested that progress could be made on an immigration policy overhaul, including a way for some illegal workers to move toward citizenship. That was stymied this year primarily by conservative Republicans who favored a get-tough-only approach.

In the Wall Street Journal column, Bush cited as a priority helping Iraq gain full control over its affairs.

“We now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war,” he wrote.

Bush said he would submit a budget in February that would make tax cuts permanent and lead to a balanced budget by 2012, which he contended would put the country in a better position to tackle the challenge of changing the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs. He also said he would offer his own plan for dealing with pork-barrel spending by Congress and ask for a line-item veto.

White House spokesman David Almacy said that Bush has used the forum of a newspaper guest column, or “op-ed,” at least four other times during his presidency: to commemorate the first anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks; to promote his re-election in 2004; to mark his second inaugural, in 2005; and again in 2005 to note the U.S. response to the Indian Ocean tsunami.