- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2001

President Bush, facing looming fights over school vouchers and the size of his tax cut, said yesterday that he hopes "frank discussion" will lead to breakthroughs with Democrats who disagree with his proposals.
Mr. Bush met with leading Democrats for the third straight day and hinted that there may be room to negotiate.
"That's part of what a dialogue is all about. I think that it's important for me to explain. It's important for me to hear others' positions," Mr. Bush told reporters before he and congressional leaders from both parties conferred over breakfast pastries in the Cabinet Room.
"It's important for me to understand where there's resistance, and why. But it all happens with good, honest discussion, a frank discussion about positions."
The meeting came as Mr. Bush received more good news about his Cabinet appointees.
By votes of 100-0, the Senate confirmed Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson as Health and Human Services secretary and Norman Y. Mineta as Transportation secretary. Interior secretary nominee Gale A. Norton won an 18-2 Senate committee vote.
Yesterday's meeting was the first to include Democratic congressional leaders. He previously huddled with Democratic elders and with a group of centrist and conservative Democrats.
"This is the sixth meeting I've had with legislators since I've been sworn in. It is a habit I intend to keep," said Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bush said Tuesday that bipartisan education reform will be a hallmark of his administration.
He continued to work toward that goal yesterday, meeting with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican; Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat; House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican; House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat; Rep. David A. Bonior, Michigan Democrat; and Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
"I hope people are now beginning to realize that when I said the executive branch is willing to work with the legislative branch and do what's right for the country, it's not hollow words. It's what I believe we need to do," said the new president.
"Expectations are that we can't come together to get things done. Our mission is to exceed the expectations."
Congressional leaders said they struck no deals with Mr. Bush during the discussion of tax cuts, education, the California energy crisis and election reform.
Mr. Daschle termed it a "very constructive" session.
"We talked briefly about energy, foreign policy, taxes. So we covered the gamut, and I thought it was an excellent meeting."
Mr. Daschle struck a less-conciliatory note a short while later on Capitol Hill.
"The one thing we don't want to do is repeat the incredible mistake we made in 1981 when we passed a tax cut we couldn't afford," he said of the tax cuts passed in the opening months of Ronald Reagan's presidency.
Mr. Bush would not say whether he was willing to give ground on tax cuts or school vouchers.
"I'm certainly not willing to negotiate with myself," he said.
The lawmakers talked about creating a panel to assess election reforms following the debacle in Florida that left the nation in limbo for 36 days after the Nov. 7 election.
Mr. Daschle said the president supports such an inquiry, but he does not want to revisit the election drama at length.
"Obviously, the more we have opportunities like this to talk about issues of mutual concern, the more productive I think the relationship between Congress and the president, between Democrats and Republicans, will be," he said.
A day after he introduced his education-reform plan, Mr. Bush headed to the Department of Education to witness the swearing-in of Secretary of Education Rod Paige.
"My administration has no greater priority than education, and Dr. Paige and I share that urgency," said Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bush also made a round of introductory telephone calls to King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan.
The president, who sees another battle coming over campaign-finance reform, met at the White House last night with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, his defeated rival for the Republican presidential nomination.
In the meeting with congressional leaders, Mr. Bush said he hopes signs of a slowing economy will strengthen his argument for a $1.6 trillion across-the-board tax cut.
"I look forward to explaining to any member that's concerned about tax relief and why, why I proposed it," he said.
"The evidence is going to become more and more clear that the economy is it's not as hopeful as we'd like, which I hope will strengthen my case."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Mr. Bush understands his honeymoon might not last, but he plans to promote civil bipartisanship.
"I think he recognizes this is day three and this is Washington, D.C.," Mr. Fleischer said. "It's going to take time, and I think the key measure will be in votes on the Hill. That's where you'll find out if things are bipartisan or not. The president will keep his head down and work to establish that bipartisan mainstream."


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