Back In U.S., Bush Prods Congress

President Bush on Friday urged Congress to "honor our obligation to our seniors" by passing the most sweeping changes in Medicare since the program was created in 1967.

Returning to the White House after three days in Britain, Bush praised Congress for passing his forest iniative and asked lawmakers to approve Republican-backed energy and Medicare packages.

He called a handful of lawmakers to lobby for the Medicare bill aboard Air Force One en route from England, where he met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss post-war activities in Iraq.

"It is an important time for members of the United States Congress to honor our obligation to our seniors by providing a modern Medicare system," the president said shortly after walking off Marine One at the White House.

Republican leaders expressed confidence in passing the Medicare bill in the House on Friday night, even as they lobbied reluctant conservatives to approve it. Democrats promised a late attempt to kill the measure.

The bill would eventually provide Medicare beneficiaries access to a prescription drug benefit for the first time. It also encourages private insurance companies to establish new managed care plans for seniors, either in the form of preferred provider organizations or HMOs.

Bush said a minority of senators were blocking passage of a bill to redirect the nation's energy agenda toward more production of oil, gas, coal and corn-based ethanol.

Critics of the bill, both Democrats and Republicans, said it would provide too many favors to industry and hinder cleanup of water fouled by a gasoline additive.