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Bush Sees 'Opportunities' on Social Security, Immigration

Bush attributed the Republicans' loss in part to the House page scandal surrounding Mark Foley (R-Fla.).
Bush attributed the Republicans' loss in part to the House page scandal surrounding Mark Foley (R-Fla.). (By Phil Coale -- Associated Press)

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Despite his party's loss, Bush said, he plans to continue advocating major policy initiatives. "The microphone of the president has never been louder . . . to talk about what I think is important," he said. "But it turns out that what I think is important, the Democratic leadership thinks is important, as well -- energy security, immigration reform, education -- and Republicans on the Hill agree."

Bush's new flexibility on Social Security is part of a larger White House plan to renew the effort to tame the rising costs of government entitlement programs as the nation's population ages. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., who enjoys strong credibility among Democrats and Republicans, has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill to talk about restructuring Social Security, emphasizing that there are no preconceptions.

Administration officials have said the White House is willing to listen to other ideas, including personal savings accounts that do not involve diverting Social Security payroll taxes, as well as higher payroll taxes to help cover the expected growth in the program's costs. Still, Bush emphasized that young workers should be allowed to divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into private retirement accounts, a proposal that went nowhere in Congress last year.

"I will tell you this: In an issue like this, unless the president tries, nothing is going to happen," Bush said. "Without presidential involvement, nothing will happen. So we have a chance, and I'm going to work it."

While Bush touted prospects for compromise with Democrats, his chief economic adviser warned yesterday that the new Congress poses the "biggest risk," potentially, to the nation's robust economy. Edward P. Lazear, chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters that he is worried that Democratic lawmakers may try to raise taxes or enact "isolationist" trade policies that could steer the country toward recession.

"The president, of course, as you know, is very strongly opposed to any tax increases and will be effective in holding the line on any tax increases," Lazear said.

Bush ducked a question about whether he thinks the District of Columbia should have a vote in Congress. Earlier this month, GOP House leaders decided not to allow a vote on a bill that would give the District a vote in Congress and add a House seat in Utah. "I will look carefully at what Congress proposes," Bush said.

Pressed for a response about his preference on the issue, absent a bill, Bush would not budge. "That's my answer," he said. ". . . I will look and see what Congress proposes."

Staff writer Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.


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