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Bush shows resolve in speech to newspaper editors

President Bush
Bush follows tradition: Every president since Warren Harding has spoken to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush touched on a number of domestic and international issues Thursday in a speech to newspaper editors, personally voicing regret Thursday for the death of a Chinese pilot in an incident involving a U.S. spy plane and pushing the Senate to adopt his tax-cut proposal.

"I regret that a Chinese pilot is missing and I regret one of their airplanes is lost, and our prayers go out to the pilot and his family," Bush said in a question-and-answer session after a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington. "Our prayers are also with our own servicemen and women, and they need to come home."

But Bush promptly cut off questioning on the topic when asked if the United States would take the additional step of offering a formal apology. "I have no further comments on the subject," he said.

Bush's comments came one day after Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed similar statements, and came on a day when the United States and China escalated efforts to resolve a five-day standoff over a downed U.S. spy plane and its crew.

The occasion also marked Bush's first speech as president to the newspaper group -- a traditional speaking platform for presidents. Every president since Warren Harding has spoken to the group.

Bush also touched on trade and tax issues, including the Senate debate on his tax-cut proposal and trade relations with China.

"We need significant tax relief and we need it now," Bush said, one day after the Senate agreed to an amendment that could slash his proposed $1.3 trillion cut. "I don't think there's any excuse for not providing real, meaningful tax relief."

The president also appeared to downplay that defeat. "No one vote is decisive," he said. "There will be a vote today; there will be one tomorrow." A final Senate vote on the president's budget resolution proposal is scheduled for Friday.

"I urge the senators, when they cast the vote tomorrow, to remember there's a lot of people in our country who are beginning to hurt," he said.

On trade, Bush said that it was "in our economic interests to open up Chinese markets to U.S. agricultural products."

"I believe trade will encourage more freedoms, particularly when it comes to individual liberties. That's what the marketplace is. The marketplace unleashes the opportunity for people to make choices, and so I'm going to continue to push for trade with China."

The president also touched on an issue close to the newspaper editors -- the disclosure of government information.

"There needs to be balance when it comes to freedom of information laws," he said. "There are some things that, when I discuss in the privacy of the Oval Office or national security matters, just should not be in the national arena.

"On the other hand, my administration will cooperate fully with a freedom of information request if it doesn't jeopardize national security," he said.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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