Bush narrowing options for new plan

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President George W. Bush, just days from unveiling his new plan for Iraq, urged opposition Democrats who will control the US Congress until he leaves office in 2009 to back his spending priorities.

“Congress has changed. Our obligations to the country haven’t,” he said, acknowledging the Democrats’ sweeping victory in November elections in large part thanks to anger over the unpopular war.

In a Rose Garden speech with his Cabinet arrayed around him, Bush said he would submit a five-year budget next month that aims to balance the US federal budget by 2012 while keeping in place large tax cuts many Democrats oppose.

“It will address the most urgent needs of our nation, in particular the need to protect ourself from radicals and terrorists, the need to win the war on terror, the need to maintain a strong national defence and the need to keep this economy growing by making tax relief permanent,” he said.

Bush called for overhauling the government-run pension and         healthcare programmes that account for a large share of the government’s annual budget and for curbing lawmakers’ pet projects, which gobble up billions of tax dollars.

And he renewed his appeal for the US Congress, held by Democrats for the first time since he took office in January 2001, to give him the controversial line-item veto that would allow him to strike individual spending measures.

“We’ve all been entrusted with public office at a momentous time in our nation’s history, and together we have important things to do. It’s time to set aside politics and focus on the future,” he declared.

Bush was also to host Democratic and Republican leaders at the White House later for receptions one day before the Democrats officially take over the US Congress.

Earlier, in a piece published by the Wall Street Journal newspaper, Bush promised to unveil his hotly anticipated new strategy for Iraq within days amid warnings even from his Republicans that they oppose escalating the war.

“In the days ahead, I will be addressing our nation about a new strategy to help the Iraqi people gain control of the security situation and hasten the day when the Iraqi government gains full control over its affairs,” Bush wrote.

“Ultimately, Iraqis must resolve the most pressing issues facing them. We can’t do it for them. But we can help Iraq defeat the extremists inside and outside of Iraq — and we can help provide the necessary breathing space for this young government to meet its responsibilities.” “Leaders in both parties understand the stakes in this struggle.

We now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war,” he wrote, warning that “we can’t play politics as usual.” “We certainly want to work with the president. We hope that when the president says compromise, it means more than ‘do it my way,’ which is what he’s meant in the past,” Democratic Senator Charles Schumer responded.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said that no date had been set for Bush’s Iraq speech, which will come after months of high-profile debate on how to fix the White House’s failed policy for bringing peace there.

“Certainly the president is narrowing the choices” in discussions with US diplomatic and military officials and Iraqi authorities, the spokesman told reporters.

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