Bush Jabs Congress for Idle Domestic Issues

President Bush accuses Congress of dragging its feet on key pieces of domestic legislation, urging quick action on budget and children's health measures. The president calls on lawmakers to compromise with him on funding the children's health program known as SCHIP.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

President Bush started his news conference this morning with a note about Congress.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We're now more than halfway through October, and the new leaders in Congress have had more than nine months to get things done for the American people. Unfortunately, they haven't managed to pass many important bills. Now the clock is winding down, and in some key areas Congress is just getting started.

INSKEEP: President Bush speaking today. He went on to list several key pieces of legislation - everything from children's health care to education to appropriations that he says Congress has failed to act upon.

NPR White House correspondent David Greene was listening to president. He joins us now.

David, good morning.

DAVID GREENE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So the president says all I can do is ask them to move bills, which they're not. What does he want them to do?

GREENE: Well, that's right. Well, his big complaint, he says, is that Congress hasn't pushed any appropriations bills to his desk. And basically the government at the moment, the new year - budget year has begun and it's working on a temporary basis. And the president says that, you know, when he urged the Republicans to act when they were the leaders in Congress, that they - they did want he said. And he says that now the Democrats are leading over on Capitol Hill they're not moving any spending bills to his desk.

And the big fight that's going to come, Steve, the president has laid down a marker on the amount of spending for domestic programs. And what Democrats want to spend, what the president says he's going to allow, they're about $20 billion apart, which in the realm of the federal budget is not that huge. But the president says it's important. And if these bills go past the line, he's going to veto them.

INSKEEP: Democrats can say they pass the children's health insurance bill, which the president has rejected. Can he say that's their fault?

GREENE: Well, he is saying that. And it's interesting - one thing the president said a lot today was that the White House wasn't dialed in. He said that if Democrats had negotiated before that bill passed, maybe we wouldn't have reached this point. And it's going to be a big battle.

The president laid out his argument today, basically said that he believes that expanding this Child Health Insurance Program would be akin to, you know, making - expanding the federal government's role in medicine. And he says he's going to lay the line down. Of course what Democrats are saying is that this is not an extraordinary amount of money and let's help poor children.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's David Greene about today's presidential news conference. And we should mention that the president turned to what's become a major diplomatic issue between the U.S. and Turkey. Let's listen in.

Pres. BUSH: With all these pressing responsibilities, one thing Congress should not be doing is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire. The resolution on the mass killings of Armenians beginning in 1915 is counterproductive.

INSKEEP: Well, it looks like that point of view seems to be winning out.

GRENE: It does. And that vote, if it happens, is going to be interesting, Steve. That, of course, is a resolution that would basically say that the Turks' treatment of Armenians was genocide, and Turkey is very unhappy about that. And the president basically said that Congress shouldn't be wasting its time on that issue and they should be dealing with, as you said, a lot of these appropriations bills.

It's interesting. One question that wasn't asked was whether the White House sort of has a double standard. You know, the president talks about Congress shouldn't be spending time on principle when it comes to Turkey and the Armenians, but President Bush is - met with yesterday and is going to see the Dalai Lama on Capitol Hill today. He's getting a Congressional Gold Medal. That has infuriated the Chinese, but the president said that a principle of religious freedom is at stake, that the Dalai Lama is spiritual leader. So standing for principle there, but when it comes to Turkey and the Armenians saying that Congress shouldn't be doing that.

INSKEEP: New subject, as reporters sometime say at news conferences. The president was asked about a reported Israeli military strike in Syria - did not answer. What was the mood as that questioning went on?

GREENE: Well, the president was really loose today. And actually, when he was asked about that, let's take a listen to what he said.

Pres. BUSH: This is not my first rodeo. And I know what you're trying to get me to comment. I'm not going to comment on it, one way or the other. Elaine...

Unidentified Woman: But your administration has talked about mushroom clouds...

Pres. BUSH: Thank you.

GREENE: So the president doesn't comment. He was very loose but also saying that he is trying hard to remain relevant in his final days.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's White House correspondent David Greene, who's been listening in to a presidential news conference today.

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