President Bush declared today that he is "prepared to negotiate" with congressional Democrats for a comprehensive package to cut the federal deficit, but insisted he won't abandon his opposition to tax increases.
Bush praised Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) for making a "very broad proposal" in coming out with a far-reaching package that would include both higher taxes and a freeze on Social Security.
The Administration surprised some Democratic lawmakers Monday by being unexpectedly receptive to the proposal by the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
"I was, in being receptive, somewhat colored by the way in which Chairman Rostenkowski approached this, the evident goodwill on his part to break the ice and move the process forward," Bush said today.
But the President told a news conference in the White House briefing room that he will not embrace Rostenkowski's plan for new taxes. "I'm not for a tax increase," he said, adding that there are many other parts of the Rostenkowski package he also does not support.
Asked if he could assure the American people that taxes will not be raised as part of a deficit-reduction scheme, Bush said: "I'm only one player. But you know my position. I have no intention of changing that position."
When pressed and asked under what circumstances he might support a tax increase, the President retorted: "Too hypothetical. Nice try."
"I don't want to appear inflexible, but I'm not about to stand here and give him, Dan, or the Congress, the idea that I'm going to accept everything in their approach," Bush said. Still, he added, "we're prepared to negotiate."
Summing up action on the deficit, Bush noted that Rostenkowski had proposed his plan, that "we've thrown our idea out" with the fiscal 1991 budget, and that now "we'd like the budget leaders on the Hill to throw theirs out."
On other subjects, Bush said:
--"Every President" wants to see interest rates lower, but he denied the existence of a "bubbling war" with Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve.
--A long-ago use of marijuana shouldn't disqualify a political candidate. The question arose in the context of a political flap in Texas where Ann Richards, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, has refused to say whether she ever used illegal drugs.
--The telephone call he held several days ago with the man who he thought--incorrectly--was Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani was a "hoax," but "what's wrong with reaching out and touching someone?"
"The hostages are at stake," he said. " . . . When the whole story comes out on (efforts to free the hostages), you are going to be very, very fascinated with the details, very fascinated."