Bush calls for action on economic plan, surveillance law


Published: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 9:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 9:27 p.m.

WASHINGTON - President Bush appealed on Saturday for swift congressional action on an economic rescue initiative and an electronic surveillance law that soon expires.

The White House and House leaders of both parties reached agreement on a simply drawn stimulus program, which would provide tax rebate checks to 117 million families and give businesses $50 billion in incentives to invest in new plants and equipment. In his weekly radio address, Bush asked Congress to approve the agreement as soon as possible.

Some in the Senate, which will take up the measure after it goes to the House floor next week, have signaled that they want to broaden the bill. Democrats there want such things as an unemployment benefits extension, an increase in home heating subsidies or higher food stamp benefits. Bush suggested they could derail the whole effort, and he warned against it.

"While I understand the desire to add provisions from both the left and the right, it would be a mistake to undermine this important bipartisan agreement," the president said. "By working together, we can provide our economy with a shot in the arm when we need it most."

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Saturday: "The White House's cooperation with Congress in recent days is long, long overdue. And it's encouraging. But let's hope it is habit-forming."

But Dorgan, delivering the Democrats' weekly radio address, added: "We need to do so much, much more. We need to fix the bigger economic issues that threaten our country's future."

Among those issues, Dorgan said, are the cost of the war in Iraq, the mortgage crisis and the trade deficit.

The eavesdropping law expires Feb. 1. Among the issues to be resolved are: How much oversight, and by whom, of the government's surveillance of communications involving people inside the United States with those outside the country? Also, whether to grant legal immunity to telecommunications companies that helped the government conduct warrantless surveillance.

"If this law expires, it will become harder to figure out what our enemies are doing to infiltrate our country, harder for us to uncover terrorist plots, and harder to prevent attacks on the American people," Bush said. "We need to know who our enemies are and what they are plotting. And we cannot afford to wait until after an attack to put the pieces together."

The original FISA law requires the government to get permission from a special court to listen in on the phone calls and e-mails of people in the United States. The Protect America Act, adopted in August, eased that restriction. Privacy and civil liberties advocates say it went too far, giving the government far more power to eavesdrop on American communications without court oversight.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Saturday that Bush's threat to veto a short extension of the intelligence measure is "shamefully irresponsible."

He said the House has already passed an intelligence bill and the Senate was ready to pass its own bill until Republicans blocked all amendments. "Democrats are ready to extend current law for as long as necessary, but Republicans are blocking that extension and the White House is threatening a veto," Reid said.

He said that under current law, intelligence collection activity that's already under way would not be cut off on Feb. 1.

The White House says the nation needs a long-term intelligence law, not a patchwork of possibly endless extensions. The administration says the House and Senate have had months to pass a measure, and says both chambers should pass one before the House leaves next week.

Bush's radio address served as a preview of part of his State of the Union address, which he delivers to a joint session of Congress on Monday night. After the speech, the president planned stops during the week to Torrance, Calif; Los Angeles; Hillsborough, Calif.; Las Vegas; Cherry Hills Village, Colo.; and Kansas City, Mo.

Bush went biking Saturday morning at a Secret Service training facility in Beltsville, Md., and planned to attend the annual Alfalfa Club dinner, a private gathering where Washington's political and business leaders give humorous speeches.

The club is named after the alfalfa plant because its roots will range far afield to reach liquid refreshment. Founded in 1913, the club was off-limits to women until 1994 when then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton attended the event with President Clinton.

Also Saturday, there was a bridal shower for the president's daughter Jenna, who is engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Henry Hager. The first lady's office would not disclose details about the event, or where it was held.

Former first lady Barbara Bush, at an event Friday at the National Archives, talked about her granddaughter's shower while underscoring the importance of family and friendships.

"Family and friends and faith are the most important things in your life and you should be building friendships," she said during a wide-ranging discussion. "At our house now, the White House at this moment, Jenna has 10 girls at the house ... because we're having a shower for her tomorrow. She's a perfect example ... they're going to be friends for life. Value your friendship. Value your relationships."

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