WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) sketched out a second-term domestic agenda Wednesday that would shift focus to improving high school education and expanding access to health care, and charged that Democratic rival John Kerry (search) would raise taxes — the "wrong medicine" for the economy, Bush said.
"This nation is on a rising path, and with four more years we'll achieve more growth, new and higher-paying jobs and greater opportunity for all of our citizens," Bush told nearly 7,000 campaign donors who contributed $23 million to Republican lawmakers. "When men and women have a sound education and the skills to seize new opportunities and the security of health care, they will achieve great things for themselves and for our nation."
Bush offered only broad outlines of what his priorities would be, and no specific new initiatives. Aides said those will come later.
The president promised to build upon the No Child Left Behind (search) law that set new standards for elementary school students and teachers.
"Now we must move forward and make sure our high schools are doing their jobs as well," Bush said. "Every high school diploma must mean that our graduates are prepared for jobs, for college and for success." He did not elaborate.
More than 40 million people have no health insurance and Bush said: "We must move forward to expand access to care, and to keep important health decisions in the hands of patients and doctors, not in government bureaucrats."
The prescription Bush offered was a familiar one: using technology to lower costs, and decreasing what Bush calls "frivolous lawsuits."
Bush also said he would focus on moving more people from welfare to jobs, expanding homeownership and increasing the control Americans have over their retirement savings. Each of those items has long been on Bush's agenda.
"This broad agenda we will carry into the new term comes from a basic conviction: Government should never try to control or dominate the lives of our citizens," Bush said. "Yet government can and should help citizens gain the tools to make their own choices and to improve their own lives."
Bush said Kerry had "spent almost 20 years in the federal government, and concluded that it just isn't big enough."
"He has a history of voting to raise taxes, but we're going to make clear to him that would be the wrong medicine" for the economy, Bush said.
The Kerry campaign said Bush's speech showed he was "out of touch."
"For a speech that was supposed to start laying out an agenda, its difficult to spot what was new about it besides the hype," said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer. "The fact is that George Bush has been in office for four years, and has yet to focus on the needs of American families."
Kerry would roll back recent tax cuts for the wealthiest to pay for education and health care improvements, his campaign said. His health insurance plan would cover an additional 27 million people, including every child, while Bush's proposal would bring 2.4 million into the health-care system, Kerry's campaign said.
Earlier Wednesday, Bush made his first visit to his campaign headquarters in suburban Virginia, shaking hands with more than 170 members of his staff and thanking them for their work.
Members of Congress played a key role in the fund-raising effort Wednesday night. House committee chairmen were asked to raise at least $100,000 each, subcommittee chairmen $50,000 or more and rank-and-file members a minimum of $25,000, for example.
The money raised Wednesday will go to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
In a mailing to potential donors, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., urged supporters who couldn't attend the dinner to give anyway.
"Your contribution will be of great assistance in helping us expand our narrow majorities in the United States Congress," Frist wrote.
House Republicans offered donors an election briefing with Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman and meetings on topics such as "President Bush and a Republican Congress: The Pro-Business Agenda," and the Bush and Kerry's tax policies.
The fund-raiser was held in a cavernous ballroom at the Washington Convention Center. Corporations and trade groups whose political action committees helped buy tables were well represented, and their names were displayed on large video screens around the room. They included eBay, Microsoft, Clear Channel, Lockheed Martin and the National Rifle Association.