To muster support among mutinous members of Congress for the embattled budget compromise, President Bush offered to make the extreme political sacrifice Wednesday: accept sole blame for the package in an election year.
"I'm saying to the Democrat who's open-minded, blame the president. Say, `I rallied to support the president,' " Bush said. "To a Republican, I would say the same thing."Bush made the statements in a press conference for regional reporters, which itself was a sign of how hard Bush is pushing for the budget package. He has held only one other press conference exclusively for such hometown reporters based in Washington.
Budget Director Richard Darman admitted it was intended to put pressure on members of Congress by increasing hometown coverage of the president's views. "I've got to run and get a few votes for this, and you can help," he joked to reporters.
Bush said he will use "every means at my disposal" to persuade Congress to support the package, which would cut the deficit by a half-trillion dollars over five years - with one-third coming from higher taxes on such things as gasoline and cigarettes, one-third from reduced spending and one-third from entitlement programs such as Medicare.
So far, Bush's lobbying has included calling in lawmakers for arm-twisting sessions at the White House and appealing directly to voters in a televised speech Tuesday night to pressure Congress tosupport the package.
Bush is also painting dire consequences if the package is not passed, saying that would cause a recession, send economic markets into chaos and maybe even show the world that the American system of governance no longer works.
Bush also revealed Wednesday a special weapon he may use against recalcitrant Republicans - who ironically are balking the most at the package because of its tax increases. He warned he may look closely at who supports him when he decides where to make his campaign and fund-raising stops this election year.
"I'm approaching this with no rancor in my heart, but trying at this juncture to use every weapon in my arsenal to make people do it our way," he said. "Sometimes you neglect your friends; I don't want to do that anymore."
Darman told reporters the administration is not yet sure it has enough support for the package to pass an expected vote Thursday.
"We're satisfied with the Senate. But on the House side we are fighting inch by inch, man by man and woman by woman," Darman said.
Bush said he realized that every region of the country would suffer in some way from the budget compromise, but the package is fair because no region or group suffers more than any other.
When reporters from the Northeast questioned whether their area is still to suffer more because of higher home heating oil costs that affect mainly their region, Bush noted others suffer more heavily from gasoline tax increases.
"Those who drive the most - that's out West - pick up most of that burden," Bush said.
When asked if such higher gasoline costs may force some people out of work, he said more would lose work if a recession hits - which he said is likely if the package is not approved.
Bush said the budget compromise is not perfect, but it is the best package that could be passed by Congress. "This is the last best chance to get this federal deficit under control," he said.
While Bush said it will require many groups to make sacrifices, "the major benefit they would receive is a more vigorous economy and the staving off of a major economic catastrophe."
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Wednesoday he supports the deficit-reduction package, giving Bush a big boost in his efforts to sell the compromise.
Greenspan's views were seen as crucial because supporters of the package are looking to the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates to offset any negative economic effects from cutting government spending and raising taxes.