WASHINGTON -- President Bush summoned GOP congressional leaders Friday to press for swift passage of his proposed Department of Homeland Security, trying to erase doubts by the incoming Senate Republican leader that a lame-duck session can accomplish that.
Bush was sitting down to a working lunch with incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Bush planned to press his demand that the postelection congressional session beginning Tuesday approve the new homeland security department. The Democratic-run Senate had refused to embrace the proposal because of concerns over union protections for the new agency's workers.
Bush was going into the meeting after scoring a substantial victory in his campaign to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
On Thursday, he used a news conference to jawbone the Senate to finish the homeland security bill.
"They got a few days to get some big things done, and the most important thing to get done, I want to emphasize, is to get a Department of Homeland Security finished," Bush said. "It doesn't matter how long it takes, they need to get it done."
Lott had earlier said that he is "not an advocate of lame-duck sessions." He is eager to end the session within a few days. "I've never seen one that served the American people well, and I've been through a lot of them," Lott said.
The remarks irritated the White House, which is eager to prove it can govern in a bipartisan fashion following Tuesday's sweeping Republican gains.
Bush was likely to give Lott an earful on the matter, a senior administration official said.
Lott said after Bush's remarks Thursday that if he has any power during the lame-duck, "it would be a big leap, but I'll make a huge effort to get it done." Lott doesn't take over as majority leader until the next Congress, in January.
Bush, holding his first formal news conference in four months, made clear he has two other priorities: passage of the 11 remaining spending bills; and approval of government-backed terrorism insurance for businesses, which the administration says will create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
He also renewed his call that lawmakers make key elements of last year's tax cuts permanent. They are scheduled to expire after 10 years.
Bush sidestepped questions about a new round of tax cuts. The administration is studying an economic package that would cut taxes on dividends and capital gains, increase the amount of stock-market losses that individuals can deduct from one year's taxable income and speed up increases in the amounts people can contribute to their 401(k) retirement accounts.
Bush steered clear of other specific plans once the GOP-led Senate clears the backlog left by Democrats. "There's going to be a huge laundry list of things people want to get done, and my job is to set priorities and get them done," he said.
He didn't address a question about whether he would press for legislation restricting abortions, as conservatives hope he will.
Nor did he say whether he would renominate conservative judges blocked by Democrats in the Senate, though he went out of his way to say those nominees would not have to be renominated during the lame-duck session.
A senior administration official said the rejected nominees have been made aware of that situation.
Bush insisted that although Republicans will control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, he would not be beholden to conservatives. "I don't take cues from anybody, I just do what I think is right," Bush said.
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