President Bush welcomed newly elected members of Congress to town Monday with a call “to achieve big things,” beginning with help for foreigners devastated by the tsunami.

Bush has pledged $350 million for countries hit by waves after an earthquake shook the floor of the Indian Ocean and has held out prospects for more aid. He said he’ll call on Congress to make good on the pledge and to support the U.S. military’s effort to bring relief in the region.

But he said he also wants to make his mark in his second term by reforming Social Security and the legal system; improving the tax code, school standards and the budget process; and making health care accessible to more Americans.

“I want to confront problems, and I will,” Bush said, looking out at dozens of new lawmakers and their spouses gathered in the East Room. “I’ll call upon Congress to take on big issues, and I look forward to working with members of both parties to do just that.”

Bush campaigned in both of his presidential elections on reaching out across party lines. Yet he often leaves behind any lawmakers who don’t get on board his agenda.

“This town is sometimes too partisan and too political,” Bush said. “And my hope is, is that we can show the nation that we can come together to achieve big things for the good of the country.”

Bush thanked the newly elected members and their spouses for their public service. He said politics is “the ultimate sacrifice.”

Bush noted that the new congressional class included farmers, ranchers, attorneys, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, a sheriff and a former member of his Cabinet. Several of the new members also have siblings or parents who have served, leading Bush to joke about how he knows firsthand the dangers of having family members in politics.

“The vice president and I share something else in common with you, besides having run together in 2004, is that we’ve all run for the Congress,” Bush said. “I’m the only one who never won.”

Bush ran unsuccessfully for the House in 1978 from his home state of Texas.

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