(CNSNews.com) - President Bush said Thursday that the United States is in an "energy crisis," a term not heard much since the 1970s. He also called for an immediate end to the violence in the Middle East, and he seized an opportunity to urge quick Senate action on his tax plan.
Americans first, Bush says
At his second formal White House news conference since taking office, the president said his administration will enact a strong energy policy to benefit the American economy.
He also defended his decision to back away from a treaty on global warming. The topic was expected to come up later on Thursday, during Bush's "get-acquainted" meeting with German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
"We will not do anything that harms our economy," the president said in response to a question about the Kyoto global warming treaty. "First things first for people who live in America -- that's my priority.
"I'm worried about the economy," Bush said. "I'm worried the lack of an energy policy. I'm worried about rolling blackouts in California." He said it's in America's national interest to develop a strong, realistic, commonsense environmental policy, and he said he will be glad to explain that to America's allies.
"It's in their interests that our economy remain strong -- after all we're a free-trading administration, we trade with each other," he said.
Mentioning Germany by name, the president said he will work with both Chancellor Schroeder and America's allies on reducing greenhouse gases, "but I will not accept a plan that will harm our economy and hurt American workers."
Schroeder was expected to raise European concerns about Bush's intention to scrap the Kyoto treaty on global warming. He was also expected to air European concerns about American plans for a national missile defense system and US-Russia tensions.
"We're now in an energy crisis," the president said at his press conference, "and that's why I decided not to have mandatory caps on carbon dioxide." He said developing America's natural gas supplies is a key to reducing greenhouse gases.
"One of the big debates taking place in the Congress is whether or not we should be exploring for natural gas in Alaska...I strongly think we should, in order to make sure we've got enough gas to be able to help reduce greenhouse emissions in the country. See gas is clean and yet is there not enough of it. We have an energy shortage."
The president also said if Congress won't allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge then America will work with the Canadians.
"I'm interested in getting more energy supply so that businesses can grow, people can heat their homes. We've got a shortage of energy in America. It doesn't matter to me where the gas comes from, in the long run, just so long as we get gas moving into the country, as long as we increase supply of natural gas and we also need to have clean coal technologies as well.
He said the energy crisis plaguing California "looms for other parts of our country if we don't move quickly."
In an opening statement before taking reporters' questions, President Bush called for an immediate end to violence in the Middle East. "It's gone on too long," he said. "Both sides must take steps to calm the situation - now."
The president said he has directed Secretary of State Colin Powell to deliver that message to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat and other Middle East leaders.
"We're going to work with all parties," Bush said. "The signal I am sending to the Palestinians is stop the violence....I hope that Chairman Arafat hears it loud and clear. This is not the first time the message has been delivered," he said.
Bush offered specific steps he would like the Palestinian Authority to take: It should "speak out publicly and forcefully in the language of the Palestinian people to condemn violence and terrorism. It should arrest the perpetrators of terrorist acts and it should resume security cooperation with Israel."
He also said the Israeli government "should exercise restraint in its military response. It should take steps to restore normalcy to the lives of the Palestinian people by easing closures and removing checkpoints. Last week, Prime Minister Sharon assured that his government wants to move in this direction and I urge Israel to do so."
President Bush said his administration will not try to force a peace settlement in the Middle East, but will rather try to "facilitate" a settlement. "It requires two willing parties to come to the table to enact a peace treaty that will last," he commented.
President Bush plans to meet next week with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdallah to "seek their help in defusing the tensions."
Bush urges quick action on budget, taxes
President Bush began his press conference by thanking the House of Representatives for passing "a realistic and commonsense" budget plan. "I appreciated the vote. They did the right thing," he said of Wednesday's 222-205 House vote that sent his tax-and-budget blueprint to the Senate.
"Consumers haven't seen any money back in their pockets and that's why it's important for the Senate to act quickly on the budget," he said. "I look forward to working with both House and Senate members to get tax relief enacted quickly and to get money as quickly as possible in the people's pockets."
The president said he supports efforts on Capitol Hill to provide "immediate" tax relief because it "makes sense" for the American people.
"But we've got to have long-term relief as well," he continued. "Part of building confidence in our economy is not only giving consumers a boost but to have a plan that reduces rates for the long term, so that people who make investments -- like small business owners and the entrepreneurs -- will have certainty that the cash flows of the future will be enhanced so that they can expand their job base and make good capital purchases," the president said.
The president said he would "continue to stand on the side of the people" by insisting on the priorities he set forth in his budget proposal. "It's not only good for the economy to give people their money back, it's good for working families," he said.
Noting all the talk about debt-reduction in Washington, the president said it's important for Congress to remember that many citizens have consumer debt, too. "When you couple high-energy prices with consumer debt, a lot of folks are in a squeeze. I look forward to continuing to make the case."
The president also expressed hope that Congress will not "diminish the size of the tax relief package that I sent up there, nor increase the size of the tax relief package that I sent up there." He said $1.6 trillion over ten years is "the size that I think is right," and that nothing he's heard has changed his opinion.
The biggest challenge to the Bush budget lies ahead in the evenly divided Senate, where some moderate Republicans expressed concern that the tax cut is too big and that spending is severely limited.
On Wednesday, House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) commended the president for promising to veto legislation that exceeds his moderate increases in spending.
"The budget passed by the House is a ceiling, not a floor, and ought to be treated as such," Watts said. "This is a budget that generously funds our nation's commitments while giving real tax relief back to those who were overcharged. It offers relief from the marriage and death taxes, doubles the per-child tax credit and gives the across-the-board relief to all taxpayers."