Bush ready to make deals with Democrats

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

Pres­i­dent Bush on Dec. 20 said his top pri­or­i­ties for work­ing to­gether with Democrats in Congress will be rais­ing the min­i­mum wage, re­new­ing the No Child Left Be­hind ed­u­ca­tion act, boost­ing en­ergy al­ter­na­tives to oil and com­plet­ing an over­haul of the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that in­cludes a guest-worker pro­gram.

On im­mi­gra­tion, he called for a bill to be put on his desk soon, once again set­ting a timetable on an is­sue that has stymied Congress for the last two years.

And in a morn­ing press con­fer­ence the pres­i­dent pledged to sup­port a $2.10 min­i­mum wage in­crease over two years, the first time he has en­dorsed that large an in­crease, though he said it must be cou­pled with tax cuts and new reg­u­la­tions that will help busi­nesses off­set the costs.

Them­i­ni­mumwageis­shapin­gup as the first ma­jor do­mes­tic bat­tle next year, and a chance for Democrats to see how far they can press their ad­van­tage in Congress.

Mr. Bush said the les­son of Novem­ber’s con­gres­sional elec­tions was bi­par­ti­san­ship.

“I don’t ex­pect Demo­cratic lead­ers to com­pro­mise on their prin­ci­ples, and they don’t ex­pect me to com­pro­miseon­mine.But­theAmer­i­can peo­ple do ex­pect us to com­pro­mise on leg­is­la­tion that will ben­e­fit the coun­try,” he said.

Mr. Bush high­lighted the new dy­namic at work on Capi­tol Hill, say­ing now he and the Democrats both have an in­ter­est in get­ting things done—“toshowthatthey’re­wor­thy of their lead­er­ship roles.”

The pres­i­dent said he is will­ing to ac­cept a deal with Democrats that rais­es­them­i­ni­mumwageto$7.25as long as that doesn’t hurt busi­nesses. He said the way to pro­tect busi- nesses is to com­bine the in­crease “withtar­get­ed­taxan­dreg­u­la­to­ryre­lief to help th­ese small busi­nesses stay­compet­i­tive­and­to­help­keep­our econ­omy grow­ing.”

Se­nate and House Repub­li­can lead­ers lined up be­hind Mr. Bush’s po­si­tion, with in­com­ing Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, say­ing pair­ing tax cuts and wage in­creases makes sense.

But Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat and the new chair­man of the key com­mit­tee that han­dles the is­sue, re­jected that approach.

“We can’t slow down this im­por­tant leg­is­la­tion with other pri­or­i­ties un­re­lat­ed­tothem­i­ni­mumwage,”he said.“Min­i­mumwage­work­er­shave wait­edal­most10­longyears­foran­in­crease—we­need­topas­saclean­bill giv­ingth­emtheraisethey­de­serveas quickly as pos­si­ble.”

Mr. Kennedy has pro­posed in­creas­ingth­ewa­ger­ate­from$5.15to $7.25 over a lit­tle more than two years, with the first 75-cent in­crease com­ing 60 days af­ter the bill passes.

Mr. Bush did not say what taxes or reg­u­la­tory changes he wants in­cluded in the bill.

In the past he has sup­ported smaller min­i­mum-wage in­creases that were tied in one case to re­search and de­vel­op­ment and es­tate-tax-cut pro­vi­sions, and in an­other in­stance were tied to flex-time pro­vi­sions that would have changed the rules for over­time pay.

Democrats op­posed both of those al­ter­na­tives, in­sist­ing on a clean in­crease.

Itis­not­clear­whetherthe­elec­tion broke that log­jam, es­pe­cially given the pos­si­bil­ity Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate might fil­i­buster a bill that con­tain­son­ly­wagein­creas­eswithno sweet­en­ers for busi­nesses.

The pres­i­dent tried to strike a bi­par­ti­san tone on both do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional is­sues, promis­ing to lis­ten to Democrats as he plots a course in Iraq and to “do my part to el­e­vate the tone” in Wash­ing­ton.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to work­ing with them. It’s go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ingnewchal­lenge,”Mr.Bush­said, pointin­gout­thathe­worked­well­with Democrats in the state leg­is­la­ture when he was gov­er­nor of Texas.

Astrid Riecken / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Pres­i­dent Bush says he is “look­ing for­ward to work­ing with” Democrats in Congress next year.

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