President Bush, his promise for a "kinder and gentler nation" finally put to the test this week, holed up in his Maine retreat Saturday and defended his $1.16 trillion spending plan as maybe short on details but at least a beginning.
Bush, who proffered specifics for his campaign vision for the first time Thursday, was promptly attacked for a budget proposal that promised increases in some domestic programs but offered little direction on where the money to pay for them would come from.But he stood firm Saturday in the face of a steady drumbeat of criticism that began Friday as lawmakers made thorough reviews of the Bush proposal revealed to a joint session of Congress Thursday night.
White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, noting that Bush had seen the reports criticizing his budget, said the president "still said he is very pleased with the reaction to his budget."
"He's still hopeful" the differences can be resolved, Fitzwater said.
As far as concerns that the president had proffered too few details, the spokesman said sharply, "Dispute it?! We're bragging about it. That's what we're doing, asking the Congress to help us."
Bush and his wife, Barbara, emerged from their Walker's Point home briefly around midday for a walk into town. The president, dressed casually and carrying a walking stick, was mobbed by reporters and bystanders as he bought razor blades at the local pharmacy.
"What a welcome," he said to the crowd as Secret Service agents scurried to protect him.
Bush ended a hectic week at the family retreat in Kennebunkport, spending some time in his office in the morning. Just before arriving Friday night after his first meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Bush defended his budget and seemed suprised by the reaction.
"There isn't a big black hole in the budget there," Bush told reporters aboard Air Force One. "I said look, we've got limited resources and here's how I generally would recommend that they be spent.
"But if the allegation is that every `T' hasn't been crossed and every `I' dotted, I'd have to say there's some validity to that," he conceded. "But that's what the whole process is about in Congress from now on."
The chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Leon Panetta, D-Calif., accused Bush Friday of effectively cramming 1,200 programs into a "black hole budget box" by instructing Congress to freeze them all at this year's level.
At the end of a week that also saw the White House acknowledge "confusion and incompetence" in its handling of some aspects of the controversial nomination of John Tower as defense secretary and a continuing stream of ethics questions about top administration officials, Bush remained upbeat and confident as he headed into his first weekend vacation at his Maine retreat.
He said he intended to catch up on his jogging after being sidelined by a persistent cold, and would remain virtually in seclusion until he departs Monday for a speech in Manchester, N.H., before heading back to Washington.
But he seemed taken aback by the fury of some of the Democratic rebukes, many made by those who stood on the sidelines of his battle with Michael Dukakis for the presidency and questioned how he could stick to his "no new taxes" pledge, fund all the new programs he promised, and reduce the federal budget at the same time.
"I mean, I said right up front there's going to be differences in priorities, there's going to be differences in approach to some of the problems," Bush said. "But I did what I said I would do: here's what I'm going to do ... and I spelled out a program that does not increase taxes."
Charles will dine at Camp David
President and Barbara Bush will host a private dinner in honor of Prince Charles at Camp David on Feb. 17, an aide said Friday. Charles, heir to the Birtish throne, has made many visits to Washington and has been entertained on several occasions at the White House, but never before at the presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains. Prince Charles, who will be on a private visit, was not expected to remain overnight. The president and first lady will extend their weekend stay until the following Monday, which is being celebrated as George Washington's birthday holiday.