Bush claims he wants to work with new Congress

President Bush pushed his signature agenda in a newspaper opinion piece Wednesday while asking Democrats, in charge of the House and Senate for the first time in his presidency, to work with him on legislation over the next two years.

Bush repeated his long-held policies on the war in Iraq, tax cuts, entrepreneurship and changes in Social Security and other entitlement programs in a guest column published in The Wall Street Journal. However, the policies came wrapped in an appeal for bipartisanship the day before Republicans turn over control of Congress to wary Democrats.

And he included a warning: “If the Congress chooses to pass bills that are simply political statements, they will have chosen stalemate,” Bush wrote. “If a different approach is taken, the next two years can be fruitful ones for our nation. We can show the American people that Republicans and Democrats can come together to find ways to help make America a more secure, prosperous and hopeful society.”

Bush is expected to announce this month a new direction for U.S. policy on Iraq. In the column, he gave no hint of change but cited as a priority his frequently stated goal of helping Iraq gain full control over its affairs.

“We now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war,” he wrote.

Bush said he would submit a budget in February that would make tax cuts permanent and lead to a balanced budget by 2012, which he contended would put the country in a better position to tackle the challenge of changing the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs. He also said he would offer his own plan for dealing with pork-barrel spending by Congress and would ask for a line-item veto.

“Together, we have a chance to serve the American people by solving the complex problems that many don’t expect us to tackle, let alone solve, in the partisan environment of today’s Washington,” Bush wrote. “To do that, however, we can’t play politics as usual. Democrats will control the House and Senate, and therefore we share the responsibility for what we achieve.”

White House spokesman David Almacy said the president has used the forum of a newspaper guest column, or “op-ed,” at least four other times: to commemorate the first anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks; to promote his re-election in 2004; to mark his second inaugural, in 2005; and again in 2005 to note the U.S. response to the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Bush planned to meet Wednesday with his Cabinet to discuss domestic priorities. He was expected to court key lawmakers at a social reception Wednesday evening. Although officials say he is still making decisions regarding Iraq policy and will not reveal any changes this week, he is expected to say he is sending additional U.S. troops there.

Democrats, eager for their turn at power when they take control of Congress, have complained that Bush has kept them at arm’s length and has not consulted on key decisions. Even a senior Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, said Sunday that Bush has been inclined “to not take Congress very seriously” on Iraq policy.

In recent weeks, Bush has signaled a willingness to go along with a Democratic priority for raising the minimum wage, if it is accompanied by tax and regulatory relief for small businesses.

He also has suggested that progress could be made on an immigration policy overhaul — stymied primarily by conservative Republicans who want a get-tough approach — that would include a way for some illegal workers to move toward citizenship.

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