'Pretty darn good,' Bush calls his first 100 days
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A relaxed and conversational President George W. Bush on Wednesday described his first 100 days in the White House as "pretty darn good," saying he has forged a rapport with members of Congress who might not be so inclined to support his agenda.
Asked for his personal assessment of his eventful 100-day tenure, Bush said, "I am enthusiastic about the job. I really love what I am doing."
"'Pretty darn good' is kind of a Texas phrase," he added, saying he gives his all to the job every day, aided by reflection and prayer.
"The first 100 days have been pretty instructive," Bush said in an exclusive interview late Wednesday morning. Members of the congressional opposition have listened to him, he said, and he has in turn listened to them, creating an atmosphere of accomplishment that has given him confidence about eventual legislative success.
Bush has translated a number of his campaign pledges into legislative language now up for consideration in the House and Senate -- including his plans for education reform, his tax cut proposal, and his fiscal year 2002 federal budget plan, now being resolved by a House-Senate conference committee.
That conference will have to reconcile the tax cut numbers in each chamber's version of the budget resolution -- $1.6 trillion over 10 years in the House version, as per Bush's request, and $1.2 trillion in the Senate.
"The House has made its statement, and the Senate has made its statement," Bush said. Now, White House staff will have to get involved enough to help the two come to an agreement, he said.
"I appear ready to get something done," Bush said, deflecting a query about rumors of his willingness to compromise on a tax-relief package lower than his prescribed $1.6 trillion initiative.
"I think we are making good progress on the budget negotiations," Bush said.
Also on Bush's "good progress" list is his education reform agenda, which is on the floor of the Senate this week. Some Senate Democrats -- notably Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, have said they will come Bush's way on student testing and other issues, but that his budget does not provide enough money to suit his priorities.
"We are making great progress on education reform, and I believe we are going to have a bill," Bush said.
Of Kennedy, who has often been a thorn in the sides of Republican chief executives, Bush said the longtime Massachusetts liberal senator has "maintained an incredibly open mind," and for that he was grateful.
That, Bush said, indicates his endeavor to change the tone in Washington is working.
"Finger-pointing and name-calling has created a spirit that is not right for America," Bush said. "Sen. Kennedy and others have bent over backwards to work with us, and for that I am very grateful."
In the course of the next 100 days and beyond, Bush will no doubt be faced with more challenging problems to solve, including ensuring the long-term well-being of the Social Security and Medicare programs.
His ability to move a tax cut through the Congress should serve as an indication that he can get something done about these issues, he said.
"My answer to the skeptics is, Let's work together," he said, adding that his recently convened Social Security commission has been charged with investigating several possibilities.
"I am a living example of someone who took on an issue and benefited from it," he said.
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