Bush Lukewarm to Congressional Progress

President Bush issues praise and condemnation for Congress during a year-end press conference. The legislature's adoption of war-spending bills and a freeze on the alternate minimum tax is met with cheer while he sharply criticizes some of their other work.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush, this morning is giving his end of the year press conference. He began by weighing in on the work Congress has done and left undone.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm disappointed that Congress resorted to passing all the spending in one massive, more than 1,400-page omnimus(ph) bill, rather than considering and passing individual spending bills in the normal process.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Brian Naylor is watching the president's press conference, and joins us now. Good morning.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And as we just heard, like many people, at this time of the year, the president has spending on his mind and debts.

NAYLOR: That's right.

MONTAGNE: He worries about debt.

NAYLOR: …and report cards. Yeah, well, he said - it was interesting. The president sounded very upbeat about what Congress has accomplished in this - last week. He said it had ended the moment - had ended the year on a moment the country can be proud of. Talking mostly about the budget, he had sought $933 billion in spending overall for the current fiscal year. And that's what Congress agreed too because he had threatened to veto anything more than that. He said he was disappointed that it was all in one. I thought he said ominous bill. He think he meant omnibus.

MONTAGNE: Omnibus.

NAYLOR: But - yeah. And he was disappointed that there were so many thousands of earmarks in it. But overall, he was pleased. He has also praised Congress for passing an energy bill that includes a boost in gas mileage standards, and for approving the fix for the alternative minimum tax so that millions of middle-income taxpayers won't have to deal with that next year.

MONTAGNE: And so what remains to be done for the Congress?

NAYLOR: Well, the big thing of - for - on the president's agenda is the FISA bill, which deals how the government can listen in on conversations, it says, between terrorists overseas.

The big issue in Congress dealing with that bill is whether the nation's telecommunications companies should be given immunity for lawsuits that have been brought by several people, several groups because they were not authorized to listen in on conversations.

The president is demanding immunity, and the Congress hasn't been able to quite work its way through that yet. And it's - the current bill expires the first part of February and the Congress comes back at the end of January. So it's not got a lot of time to deal with it.

MONTAGNE: The president has also been asked in this morning's press conference about the presidential campaign and what it takes to sit in the Oval Office. Here's a little of what he said.

Pres. BUSH: You can't be the president unless you have a firm set of principles to guide you as you sort through all the problems the world faces. And I would be very hesitant to support somebody who relied upon opinion polls and focus groups to define a way forward for a president.

MONTAGNE: This is interesting. We've seen the early moment of the president talking about the next president.

NAYLOR: Right, right.

MONTAGNE: What else does he have to say?

NAYLOR: Well, it's interesting because the president doesn't like to be drawn into these conversations about the current campaign. And the president is not always so introspective, I guess - is the word to use - about these sorts of things.

He said, though, that it's important how a leaders - the who a leader surrounds himself with. You have to have good people around you. There's a lot of issues, he said, that come in to the Oval Office. It's a complex world in there. And, by and large, though, it's all about what your own principles are that guides you in making these decisions.

MONTAGNE: And that press conference - that year-end press conference of President Bush is still going on. But we're going to have to end this conversation.

NPR's Brian Naylor, joining us from the capitol, thanks very much.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Renee.

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Bush Critiques Congress in News Conference

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

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