WASHINGTON (AP) — Contending Americans have embraced his
conservative agenda, President Bush pledged yesterday to
aggressively pursue major changes in Social Security, the tax code
and medical malpractice awards, working with Democrats if they are
receptive and leaving them behind if they’re not.

“I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and
now I intend to spend it,” Bush said a day after a decisive
victory that made him the first president in 68 years to win
re-election and gain seats in both the House and Senate.

“I’ll reach out to everyone who shares our
goals,” said Bush, who 24 hours earlier had promised to try
to win over those who voted for his Democratic opponent.

Buoyant and relaxed yesterday, Bush cracked jokes at his first
postelection news conference and said he had not decided on any
changes in his Cabinet for the second term. He took congratulatory
calls from world leaders from Russia, Poland, Iraq, Afghanistan,
Israel and Italy before flying to Camp David for four days of rest
after the grueling campaign.

As U.S. forces in Iraq mobilize for an all-out offensive in
Fallujah and other Sunni militant strongholds, the president
refused to say how much the war would cost or whether he planned to
increase or cut troop strengths. “I have yet to hear from our
commanders on the ground that they need more troops,” the
president said. He is expected to ask Congress early next year for
up to $75 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan and operations against
terrorism.

The president was unapologetic about the unpopularity of his
decisions in many world capitals, such as his commitment to spread
democracy in the Middle East. “Listen, I’ve made some
very hard decisions: decisions to protect ourselves, decisions to
spread peace and freedom.” The war on terror would remain a
priority, he said.

Bush said that at home, he had set an unmistakable direction for
the country and he emphasized anew he does not foresee the need for
any tax increase despite big budget deficits.

Coming from a campaign that offered clear policy choices, Bush
said, “When you win, there is a feeling that the people have
spoken and embraced your point of view, and that’s what I
intend to tell the Congress.” He urged lawmakers to show
discipline on spending bills and to enact an intelligence reform
bill when they return to town later this month.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats were stunned by some unexpected
losses in the Senate and the defeat of their leader, Tom Daschle,
an 18-year veteran. Republicans also gained seats in the House.

Democrats promised to challenge Bush’s priorities.

“What the president is doing in fiscal policy is weakening
the country, making us more vulnerable. It’s so
strange,” said Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, top Democrat
on the Senate Budget Committee. “There’s no free lunch,
and at the end of the day our country will have a tremendous price
to pay for this profligacy.”

Said Bush, “I readily concede I’ve laid out some
very difficult issues for people to deal with. And I would hope to
be able to work with Democrats to get this done.”

In setting priorities, Bush said some issues would be at the
front of the line simply because they have been at the center of
the political arena before. Capping medical malpractice limits, a
prized goal of Republicans, will be one of his first proposals
because it “had been debated and got thwarted a couple of
times,” the president said.

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