President George W Bush is appealing to Congress for swift action on an economic rescue initiative and an electronic surveillance law that soon expires.
The White House and House leaders of both parties have reached agreement on a simply drawn stimulus program, which would provide tax rebate checks to 117 million families and give businesses $50 billion (euro34 billion) in incentives to invest in new plants and equipment. In his weekly radio address Saturday, 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, a Democrat from North Dakota, 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.
Also, 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."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, 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 is 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, California; Los Angeles; Hillsborough, California; Las Vegas; Cherry Hills Village, Colorado; and Kansas City, Missouri.