The White House News Conference
NPR Analysis: Host Neal Conan with Deputy Foreign Editor Ted Clark and National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson
President Bush gave qualified praise to Congress for voting to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and passing measures to freeze the alternate minimum tax, but he scolded members for allowing numerous spending earmarks.
The president also stood by earlier White House statements denying he had prior knowledge of the destruction in 2005 of CIA interrogation tapes.
In a year-end news conference in the White House briefing room, the president said he was "pleased that we were able to end this year on a high note."
But he went on to issue equal doses of praise and criticism of Congress.
Refunds Could Be Delayed
"This week Congress passed legislation to protect middle-class families from the burden of the Alternative Minimum Tax without raising taxes," he said. "Unfortunately, Congress passed this legislation after a lengthy delay. It's going to — the delay is going to add time it takes to process tens of billions of dollars in refunds."
He said his administration would work hard to minimize such a delay.
Bush had threatened to veto earlier versions that paid for the lost tax revenue — estimated to be $50 billion — by closing some tax loopholes. The White House argued that the AMT shouldn't be fixed with increased taxes.
The president criticized some 980 earmarks attached to the $555 billion omnibus spending bill as not responsible. The bill included funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he will ask his budget director to review options for eliminating spending he considers wasteful in the half-trillion dollar spending bill that Congress just passed.
"When Congress wastes so much time and leaves its work to the final days before Christmas, it is not a responsible way to run this government," he said.
He was also critical of Congress for passing a law that authorizes the government to monitor overseas communications as part of the war on terror until Feb.1.
During the question and answer portion of the news conference, Bush reiterated earlier statements that he only learned of the destruction of CIA tapes allegedly showing harsh treatment of al-Qaida captives when he was briefed by CIA Director Michael Hayden after the fact.
"Sounds pretty clear to me when I say I have - the first recollection is when Mike Hayden briefed me. That's pretty clear," Bush said.
Bush Reserves Judgment on Tapes' Destruction
He repeatedly said he would reserve judgment on the CIA tapes controversy until inquries by the Justice Department, CIA and several congressional panels are concluded.
"Let's wait and see what happens," he told journalists.
Bush spoke cautiously about the state of democracy in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, who has tightened control of the courts and the media and maneuvered to retain power as his term ends. Putin was just named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" for imposing stability that has restored Russia as a world power.
"I presume they put him on there because he was a consequential leader," Bush said. "And the fundamental question is, consequential to what end? What will the country look like 10 years from now? My hope, of course, is that Russia is a country that understands there needs to be checks and balances."
He said his administration would consider all options to further stimulate the U.S. economy.
The president said he would sign legislation that increases the incentives for borrowers and lenders to work together to refinance loans Thursday afternoon.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press