By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 14, 2005
President Bush, fresh from a European trip and a White House summit with Central American leaders, returned to his troubled domestic agenda yesterday and tried to ratchet up pressure on a balky Congress to pass his Social Security, energy, legal liability, health care and tax proposals.
At a speech before the National Association of Realtors conference in Washington, the president ticked off the legislative priorities still awaiting action on Capitol Hill and said they were key to his broader efforts to strengthen the economy.
"We've got an important agenda here in Washington," Bush said. "It's an agenda to keep this country prosperous and safe and free."
As he has since launching his second term in January, Bush devoted the bulk of his time to Social Security, which he wants to restructure to add personal investment accounts and head off long-term financial shortfalls. Under the Bush plan, the growth in future benefits would be scaled back for middle- and upper-income recipients, and Americans born after 1950 would be allowed to divert part of their Social Security payroll taxes to government-run stock-and-bond accounts.
Frustrated that Democrats have locked arms against his plan and many Republicans have kept their distance, Bush said the American public would not sit still for inaction: "They expect the folks here in Washington, D.C., to do something about it. They expect us to put aside partisan differences and focus on the good of the country."
Speaking to a ballroom filled with hundreds of members of one of the country's most politically active lobbies, Bush urged his audience to join him in lobbying Congress. "I ask you to contact the members of the House of Representatives and Senate . . . from your states and encourage them to work in good faith to solve this problem," he said.
Bush also repeated his deadline for Congress to send him legislation intended to expand energy resources, including oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power. The House has passed a bill that Bush praised, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday released parts of its draft bill. "It is now time for the United States Senate to act," Bush said. "Congress needs to get a bill to my desk before the August recess."
But he acknowledged, as he has in the past, that it would not immediately reduce the cost of gas. "That's not the way it works," he said. "We need to address the root causes that are causing gasoline prices to go up. The root cause is that we're consuming energy faster than we're producing it, which means we're becoming more dependent on oil from overseas."
The president also urged lawmakers to pass his plans for a tax credit for single-family homeowners, expanded health savings accounts and limits on medical malpractice lawsuits. In an audience of small-business owners, his most popular applause line was a plea to bring down the cost of providing health care insurance for employers. The roomful of Realtors leapt to their feet for a prolonged ovation.