President Bush said today that his election victory Tuesday has given him "political capital" that he intends to spend on the major goals of his second-term agenda, including overhaul of the Social Security system and the tax code.
In his first news conference since winning reelection with 51 percent of the vote, Bush said he would also reach out to opposition Democrats. But he did not provide specifics of how he would do so, and he indicated that he would push hard to achieve the aims that he outlined in his campaign.
President Bush answers questions during a news conference at the White House.
(Gereald Martineau - The Washington Post)
_____Bush Press Conference_____
Video: President Bush thanked voters for their support and roughly outlined a political agenda for his second term.
Transcript: Press Conference
Transcript: Terry Neal discussed election results.
Transcript: Washington Post staff writer Dan Balz answered reader questions.
"I feel it is necessary to move an agenda that I told the American people I would move," Bush said, adding that there is "something refreshing about coming off an election."
"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," Bush said.
"It's like earning capital," he added. "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. . . . I 'm going to spend it for what I told the people I'd spend it on, which is . . . Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror."
Bush indicated that overhauling Social Security could be a hard slog after a campaign in which Democratic challenger John F. Kerry accused him of planning to privatize the system, a move that some critics have said would impose transition costs of up to $2 trillion.
Asked how he would deal with those costs, Bush did not specifically address them, but said it would cost more to leave the system unchanged than to reform it.
"We must lead on Social Security because the system is not going to be whole for our children and our grandchildren," Bush said, adding, "We'll start on Social Security now. We'll start bringing together those in Congress who agree with my assessment that we need to work together." He said a study on Social Security by a commission headed by the late Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was "a good place for members of Congress to start."
Bush said, "Reforming Social Security will be a priority of my administration. . . . And this is going to be hard work to bring people together and . . . to convince the Congress to move forward. And there are going to be costs. But the cost of doing nothing . . . is much greater than the cost of reforming the system today."
Appearing relaxed as he occasionally bantered with reporters during the news conference, Bush also urged Congress to pass an appropriations bill that shows "spending discipline," an effective intelligence reform bill and legislation to restrict "frivolous lawsuits" that he said drive up the cost of health care.
"We must reform our complicated and outdated tax code," Bush said. He said that "simplification would be the goal" of such reform.
He said he has not yet made any decisions on changes in his Cabinet or White House staff, but noted that such changes are "inevitable" and happen in every administration.
Among the Cabinet members who have been reported as planning to resign is Attorney General John D. Ashcroft. Justice Department sources have said for weeks that Ashcroft was expected to tender his resignation sometime after the election, Washington Post staff writer Dan Eggen reported. He has been one of the longer-serving attorneys general of recent administrations and has experienced health problems this year, undergoing surgery in March to remove his gall bladder and gallstones.
Asked for his reaction to news that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had died -- a report that was subsequently denied by a French official outside the hospital where Arafat is undergoing treatment -- Bush paused and said, "My first reaction is God bless his soul. And my second reaction is that we will continue to work for a free Palestinian state that's at peace with Israel."