WASHINGTON – President Bush has a lengthy to-do list for lawmakers when they return this week from their Thanksgiving vacation, including spending bills, intelligence legislation and tax law changes.
"Members are coming back to a lot of unfinished business," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. "The clock will be ticking because they have only a few weeks to get their work done before leaving again for Christmas."
Among the unfinished priorities for the president are approval of money to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and agreement on new rules for government eavesdropping.
He urged Congress to complete the annual government spending bills — but not in "one monstrous piece of legislation" filled with money for special interests. In addition, he wants Congress to send him legislation that keeps middle-class people from being hit by a tax originally aimed at a small number of wealthy people.
The alternative minimum tax, created in 1969, was not adjusted for inflation. Every year, the tax ensnares a growing number of middle-income taxpayers.
"If Congress fails to pass legislation to fix the AMT, as many as 25 million Americans would be subject to the AMT," Bush said. "On average, these taxpayers would have to send an extra $2,000 to the IRS next year. This is a huge increase that taxpayers do not deserve and Congress must stop."
Since the end of the summer, Bush has focused at least 17 events or remarks on budget-related disputes with Congress. In his Nov. 17 radio address, Bush demanded that Congress fix that tax. At the Pentagon on Thursday, Bush pressed Democrats to approve money to fund the Iraq war "without strings and without delay" before leaving for the Christmas holidays.
After more failed attempts to pass legislation ordering troops home from Iraq, Democrats have said they plan to sit on Bush's $196 billion request for war spending until next year.
The House has passed a $50 billion bill that would keep war operations afloat for several more months, but set a goal of bringing most troops home by December 2008. After Bush threatened to veto the measure, Senate Republicans blocked the measure. In turn, Democratic leaders said they will not send Bush a war spending bill this year at all.
Pentagon officials said that if the money is not approved soon, the military will have to take cost-cutting measures. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered the Army and Marine Corps to begin planning for a series of expected cutbacks, including civilian layoffs, termination of contracts and reduced operations at bases.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who returned Saturday from a trip to Iraq, called the threat of layoffs "gamesmanship" on the part of the Defense Department.
"Nobody is going to get hurt by having this debate go on for another month or so," said Webb, Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, in a conference call with reporters.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the Bush administration is not placing enough pressure on the Iraqi government to secure the nation and provide necessary services to its citizens.
"In January, the president announced the so-called troop `surge' to give Iraq's government the `breathing space' to achieve political reconciliation," Pelosi said in a statement released Friday. "Eleven months later, Iraqi politicians have failed by every measure to make the necessary political progress.
"Democrats are committed to a new direction in Iraq that holds the president accountable, provides real support to our men and women in uniform and will bring our troops home safely, honorably and soon."
On the intelligence legislation, Bush wants Congress to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Lawmakers changed the law over the summer to allow the government to eavesdrop inside the United States without court permission, so long as one end of the conversation was reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S.
The original law required a court order for any surveillance conducted on U.S. soil, to protect Americans' privacy. The White House argued that the law was obstructing intelligence gathering because, as technology has changed, a growing amount of foreign communications passes through U.S.-based channels.
"This new law expires on February 1 while the threat from our terrorist enemies does not," Bush said.
The most contentious issue is whether to shield telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits for allegedly giving the government access to people's private e-mails and phone calls without a FISA court order between 2001 and 2007.