Bush unveils budget

February 22nd 2001 - In his first presidential news conference, President Bush said Thursday he would resist "the Christmas tree effect" as he pushes a budget plan, saying he hoped business leaders and Congress would resist the temptation to add a multitude of projects to his proposal.

"I don't want people putting ornaments on my plan," the president said. Bush said he hoped business interests "will listen to me, and I hope they will help me."

"I will resist the temptation of folks to pile on their pet programs onto our tax cut," he added.

"We thought long and hard about the right number," he said of the $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal. "We think it's just right."

"I have a reasonable and balanced budget," Bush said. "It funds priorities, and my administration has no higher priority than education." He said the budget would "honor the commitments to America's senior citizens," including support for Medicare and Social Security.

"Our budget is fiscally responsible. If enacted, it will reduced the deficit by an unprecedented amount over the next four years."
Bush turns aside questions on Clinton pardon

The news conference was announced barely more than an hour before it began, and Bush chose to hold the session in the less formal White House Briefing Room, rather than the more traditional East Room.

The news conference came on a day when much of the news was focused on Bush's predecessor, former President Bill Clinton and the pardons issued shortly before he left the White House in January.

Bush tried to turn the attention to the budget he will submit to Congress next week.

"I think the press corps will ferret out any wrongdoing," Bush said, in one of several attempts to turn aside questions about the pardons.

"As far as this White House is concerned, it's time to go forward. I've got too much to do ... to be worrying about decisions that my predecessor made," Bush said. "To the extent that the Justice Department looks at this matter, it will be done in a non-political way."
President to discuss espionage with Russia leader

Other topics touched on by Bush included:

• The spying case of FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen, accused of gathering information for the Russians. Bush expressed confidence in FBI Director Louis Freeh, and said he would wait for proposals on how to improve FBI security. Bush said he was "very concerned" about the espionage and would discuss it with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I intend to deal with Mr. Putin in a very straightforward way, to be up front with him on all matters," Bush said.

• A U.S. missile defense proposal. "I was pleased to see comments from the Russian leadership that talked about missile defense," Bush said. "Their words indicated that they recognize there are new threats in the post-Cold War era, threats that require theater-based anti-ballistic missile systems. I felt their words were encouraging."

• The Persian Gulf. Six days after U.S. and British planes struck targets in Iraq, Bush shrugged off a question about more than half of the bombs missing their targets. He said the air strikes had two missions -- sending a signal to Saddam Hussein and degrading his military abilities. Bush asserted that both were successful.

Bush said Secretary of State Colin Powell, about to visit the Middle East, planned to listen to allies and form a policy that would convey to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein: "We won't tolerate you developing weapons of mass destruction and we expect you to leave your neighbors alone."

"The primary goal is to make it clear to Saddam that we expect him to be a peaceful neighbor in the region and we expect him not to develop weapons of mass destruction," Bush said.

• Bush's support of so-called faith-based institutions to provide government-funded social services. Asked whether such an arrangement violated the Constitution, Bush said, "I understand full well that some of the most compassionate missions of help and aid come out of faith-based programs and I strongly support the faith-based initiative we are proposing.

"I do not believe it violates the separation between church and state," he said.