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Black lawmakers ask Bush to adopt agenda

WASHINGTON -- Its relationship with the White House strained over the last four years, the all-Democratic group of black congressional members used its long-awaited meeting with President Bush to ask him to adopt its agenda for closing racial disparities.

The 43-member Congressional Black Caucus presented Bush with its eight-page agenda during a private meeting. Representative Mel Watt, a Democrat from North Carolina who is the new chairman of the group, said Bush agreed to read the agenda and take it under advisement but didn't offer much response to it.

The agenda asks for more spending on education for poor and minority students, healthcare for all Americans, promotion of affirmative action, aid to impoverished African and Caribbean nations, and a guarantee that Social Security benefits continue to be paid, among other requests.

Some members told the president they were concerned that a prominent Republican lawmaker had suggested adjusting benefits based on gender and race to take into account differing average life spans. Bush did not respond directly, said Representative Charlie Rangel, Democrat of New York, but told the lawmakers he plans to give more details of his plan in the State of the Union address.

Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the District of Columbia's nonvoting delegate to Congress, said Bush said he would meet again with the caucus. ''But he said that last time," she said.

Bush has met three times with the black caucus since taking office four years ago. The first meeting came shortly after his inauguration, when the president said it would ''be the beginning of, hopefully, a lot of meetings."

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