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Disaster relief money top priority, Bush tells new lawmakers


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration has pledged $350 million in relief and reconstruction aid to hard-hit countries in the region, where a massive earthquake December 26 triggered a tsunami that left 155,000 dead.

Bush visited the embassies of the four hardest-hit countries Monday morning, along with first lady Laura Bush; his father, former President George Bush; and former President Bill Clinton.

Bush earlier Monday named Clinton and his father to lead a fund-raising campaign to raise contributions for additional disaster aid.

"I told them this is a compassionate country, and we'll help -- and we'll help in a way that the aid makes a difference," he said.

Bush also told the House and Senate class of 2005 that he expects them to confront tough issues with him.

Among those issues will be plans to overhaul a federal tax code he called "a complicated mess" and an expected attempt to overhaul Social Security.

"My hope is that we can show the nation that we can come together to achieve big things for the good of the country," he said.

Bush also offered words of praise for two Democratic lawmakers who died over the weekend -- former U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, who was the first black woman to serve in Congress, and Rep. Robert Matsui, 25-year veteran who was a prominent Democratic voice on Social Security issues.

"Laura and I send our condolences to both the Chisholm and Matsui families. May God rest their souls," he said.


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