Bush Urges Action on Defense Bill

From his family vacation home in Maine, President Bush on Saturday used his weekly radio address to get Congress moving on his pet priorities, hoping fast action of late on Capitol Hill will continue.

"We've had a month of accomplishment in Washington," Bush said. "Congress acted on several important proposals."

Congress recently finished work on a spending bill to support the war on terrorism and beef up domestic security, which Bush signed before leaving Washington on Friday.

In his address, Bush pressed the House and Senate to make working out their differences on a spending plan for national defense their "first priority" once they return from their August recess.

The president hailed passage of a long-awaited bill giving him authority to negotiate free-trade pacts that Congress can only approve or reject, but not amend. Bush promised to sign it Tuesday. Another welcome victory was a new corporate accountability law.

Bush's 32-day escape from the heat and "hollering" of Washington started with a hug for his parents, former President George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush, and a run on the treadmill at their Walker's Point estate.

The president on Saturday played some golf with the elder Bush, who had red blotches on his face as a result of recent treatment for sun-induced keratoses.

At the first tee, as the former president, 78, joked that his age permits him to swing from the easier ladies' tee, White House aides handed reporters a statement from the Mayo Clinic. It emphasized he does not have skin cancer and said, "the prognosis for total recovery is excellent."

In the afternoon, the former president was taking the helm of his Fidelity II speedboat and chauffeuring his son — in a long "boat-cade" — to Proust's Neck for a fund-raiser benefiting Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Siblings Marvin and Dorothy tagged along for the brief holiday, but first lady Laura Bush and the couple's twin daughters did not.

Bush returns to Washington on Monday afternoon, but will leave a day later for Crawford, Texas, until Labor Day. His stay at his beloved 1,600-acre ranch is interspersed with trips, official functions and fund-raisers for GOP candidates.

The president will mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks by visiting New York City, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania where United Flight 93 crashed.

Bush in his address called for Congress to approve his plans for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. His request for flexibility in dealing with personnel has proved to be the legislation's most serious stumbling block.

Also on the president's list of unfinished business on his agenda for the fall are welfare reform, terrorism insurance for businesses, an energy bill, improved protections for employee pension plans and legislation further opening government programs to religious groups.

But even as the president praised politicians for working together across party lines "in a spirit of unity and purpose," Democrats with the upcoming midterm elections clearly in mind were busy seeking to lay the blame for Congress' failure to provide Medicare prescription drug benefits squarely on Republican shoulders.

"During the debate on a Medicare prescription benefit the last three weeks, Senate Republicans again have done everything in their power to defeat our effort to get lower cost prescriptions for seniors," said Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. "Senate Democrats will keep fighting for an affordable, voluntary and universal benefit."

The Senate stalemated over competing plans for providing prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries after the House approved a $320 billion version Democrats say covers too few people.

The issue is a potent one with voters, and lawmakers on both sides worry they will suffer at the polls in November because of the impasse.

Bush devoted less air time to prescription drugs than any other in his address — just eight words.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.