Bush vows push on immigration

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President Bush yesterday said he plans to spend political capital this year to force a debate in Congress on his immigration-reform proposal, and boldly predicted that he will prevail.

“I believe the president has got to set big agenda items and solve big problems,” the president told editors and reporters of The Washington Times in an interview in the Oval Office. “Obviously, we’re going to have to work on it, just like Social Security. This will require the expenditure of capital.”

Asked whether he will move forward this year with his immigration-reform plan which critics say amounts to amnesty for an estimated 8 million illegal aliens in the United States Mr. Bush said: “Yes. Yes, I will.” And asked where his proposal ranks in a second-term agenda already overflowing with big-ticket issues from reforming Social Security to overhauling the U.S. tax code, he said: “I think it’s high. I think it’s a big issue.”

“Look, whether or not you agree with the solution or not, we have a problem in America when you’ve got 8 million undocumented workers here,” said Mr. Bush, leaning forward in his armchair and putting his elbows on his knees. “A solution is not instantaneous citizenship. The solution is something more rational than that.”

The president expressed confidence that he can persuade reticent members of Congress to move on his immigration bill, recounting how he has succeeded on issues that faced staunch opposition in the past.

“Remember the tax debate? It seems like history tends to repeat itself,” Mr. Bush said, leaning back in his chair. “In ‘01, it was like, you’ll never get the taxes done. No chance. And initially out of the box, some people said, over my dead body would they pass tax relief.”

In his first year in office, the House and the Senate passed the second largest tax-cut in history, despite the initial opposition.

“If I listened to all that, I’d just quit, you know. But that’s not the way I think.”

The president, whose second term begins in just eight days, was relaxed and confident throughout the 40-minute session. At times he grew animated, gesturing to make a point, as he laid out an expansive agenda in a brief opening statement before taking questions.

“You’re probably sitting there saying, has the guy bit off more than he can chew? The answer is, we will work as hard as we can to get as much as we can get done, as quickly as possible,” Mr. Bush said.

In the interview, the president laid out an ambitious agenda, saying he would:

Push his judicial nominees through Congress, saying he is “confident that we’ll prevail in the long run.”

Fully fund troops in Iraq and elsewhere while keeping discretionary spending to a minimum, although he wouldn’t predict the percentage of spending increase this fiscal year.

Spend more political capital to revamp the Social Security system that will go “broke, flat-bust” around 2040.

The president faces one of his toughest battles over immigration. Many Republicans openly said before the November election that they were holding their tongues for the campaign, with Hispanics expected to be a pivotal voting bloc. But they since have become far more vocal in their opposition.

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