President Bush vowed yesterday to use the "political capital" gained from his victory on Tuesday to push an aggressive domestic agenda in a second term, beginning with limiting medical malpractice lawsuits and continuing with revamping the tax code and adding private accounts to Social Security.
At a news conference a day after Sen. John F. Kerry conceded, Bush spoke repeatedly about his desire to unify the country, including Democrats who did their best to evict him from power. But he also made it clear that he views the election returns -- especially a 3 percent margin of victory in the popular vote that he said reflected "the will of the people" -- as a mandate to pursue conservative priorities and to continue a governing style that has rarely accommodated the opposition.
In citing his foreign policy priorities, Bush listed the fight against terrorism first but refused to estimate the cost of continuing operations in Iraq.
(Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
Post reporter Jim VandeHei discusses the likely changes in President Bush's cabinet over the next couple of months.
The Post's Dana Milbank reviews President Bush's news conference.
"I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style," he said. "I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I'd spend it on, which is -- you've heard the agenda: Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror."
In both words and tone, Bush conveyed exceptional self-assurance as he jauntily parried with reporters and served notice that he expects Congress to move with dispatch on his agenda. The message was unmistakable: that Bush intends to be the capital's dominant political and policy force, and that the election returns mean that other players should move to accommodate his priorities, not simply meet in the middle.
"I really didn't come here to hold the office just to say, 'Gosh, it was fun to serve,' " he said. "I came here to get some things done, and we are doing it."
Bush, whose domestic agenda has been largely overshadowed by war and terrorism, said he will "start on Social Security now" by beginning to work with lawmakers who support allowing workers to put some of their payroll taxes into stocks and bonds. "We must lead on Social Security because the system is not going to be whole for our children and our grandchildren," he said.
But several officials said a detailed proposal on Social Security is likely to be held until 2006, ensuring that it looms large before the congressional midterm election. Democrats contend Bush's plan is a way to weaken the federal retirement system. Bush said he will "readily concede I've laid out some very difficult issues for people to deal with."
"Reforming the Social Security system for generations to come is a difficult issue; otherwise, it would have already been done," he said. "But it is necessary to confront it. And I would hope to be able to work with Democrats to get this done."
Bush said the "groundwork has been laid" on Capitol Hill for his longtime interest in limiting lawsuits, and administration officials said they are ready to move quickly with a legislative package on curbing the amount of damages that can be won with lawsuits against doctors. The idea was among his biggest applause lines this year when speaking to GOP donors at campaign fundraisers.
As another top priority, Bush said he will work to make the tax code simpler and more fair. He said he believes certain incentives should be built into a rewritten code -- for example, provisions to encourage charitable giving and homeownership. He said the changes would be "revenue-neutral" -- not a hidden way of raising taxes and reducing the deficit, as some of his critics have charged.
"If there was a need to raise taxes, I'd say, 'Let's have a tax bill that raises taxes,' as opposed to 'Let's simply the tax code and sneak a tax increase on the people.' It's just not my style. I don't believe we need to raise taxes. I've said that to the American people. And so the simplification would be the goal."
Facing a huge federal deficit and his promise to cut it in half over five years, Bush made no mention of a tax cut, and administration officials said none is in the offing.
Bush also said he plans to move quickly on his education proposals, including a plan to add accountability for high schools.
On foreign policy, Bush listed the fight against terrorism first when he was citing his priorities. He declined to estimate the cost of continuing operations in Iraq, saying that the United States would work with the government of Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, to "achieve our objective, which is elections, on the path to stability, and we'll continue to train the troops."