President presses to fund war

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

From wire reports

WASHINGTON -- President Bush prodded Congress on Monday to fully fund the war on terrorism at home and aboard, saying some accounts could be depleted in a matter of days and that "further delay is intolerable."

At a White House news conference, Bush also brushed aside questions about his own past business practices as "old-style politics" and said the SEC investigated him years ago and took no action.

Fielding questions for more than 30 minutes, Bush reiterated his determination to see Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ousted from power, but he refused to say how soon that could be expected. And he said he doesn't know whether al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is alive or dead.

Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, "may be alive. If he is, we'll get him. If he's not alive, we got him," Bush said. "But the issue is bigger than one person."

The president stepped to the White House microphones shortly after flying back from a long holiday weekend in Maine, and as lawmakers were returning to the Capitol for a summer session in the shadow of midterm elections.

Bush urged action on an energy bill, trade legislation to enhance his ability to conduct global trade negotiations, creation of a new Department of Homeland Security, new welfare legislation and more.

A sharp response

His words about funding for national security drew a sharp reply from Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. Bush "failed to mention that his administration is greatly responsible for any delay," Byrd said.

The House and Senate have both approved legislation to provide the additional funds that the administration is seeking. Bush has issued a veto threat against the Senate measure, which is larger than his own request, and no final compromise has been reached.

"What our country needs is responsible leadership, and presidential talk about a veto of homeland security funding is nothing short of irresponsible," Byrd said.

Bush said it had been 100 days since he first asked lawmakers to approved additional funds for the armed forces and for security at the nation's airports.

"Four months later, the Department of Defense and the new Transportation Security Administration are still waiting for the money, and they'll run out of operating funds maybe as soon as this week," he said.

"Congress simply must fund our troops while they're fighting a war," he said. .... Further delay is intolerable."

On other issues, Bush:

Responded tartly to criticism from the NAACP about his civil rights record. "Let's see, there I was sitting around the table with foreign leaders, looking at Colin Powell and Condi Rice," he said, referring to his secretary of state and national security adviser, both of whom are black.

Said he hasn't yet made a decision on how widely the government should administer smallpox vaccinations to guard against any outbreak of the disease caused by bioterrorists. "I worry about calling for a national vaccination" because of the health risk it could pose to a limited number of people, he said.

Asked about Saddam, he said, "It is the stated policy of this government to have a regime change and we use all the tools at our disposal to do so." Asked whether American should look for that before the end of his term, Bush replied that was a hypothetical question he wouldn't answer.

Corporate wrongdoing

The issue of corporate wrongdoing -- and Bush's own past behavior -- hung over the news conference.

A few blocks away, former executives of WorldCom Inc., were invoking their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination rather than answer questions from a House committee.

Bush said he and his advisers are working with alacrity to restore market "confidence" -- mentioning the word nine times in his 36-minute appearance. On the eve of his speech today on Wall Street detailing further remedies to corporate accounting scandals, Bush suggested that Democrats in the Senate were raising questions about his corporate past to "divert attention" from their inaction on the subject of corporate governance.

He also put in a word of support for Harvey Pitt, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, whom Democrats have suggested is the wrong man to lead the nation's effort to root out corporate fraud.

Under questioning in the White House briefing room, Bush said the SEC had vetted insider-trading allegations involving the Harken Energy Corp. a decade ago and "said there was no case."

The SEC, after an investigation in 1990, said it was not going to pursue questions involving Bush's sale of more than 212,000 shares of Harken stock two months before the firm reported large losses. Bush was a company director at the time.

Bush reported the sale of his Harken stock to the SEC eight months late, triggering the investigation.

Bush said he still hasn't "figured....out completely" why the required form was filed 34 weeks late.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: