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Bush Calls For National Remembrance of Asian Tsunami Victims

President Bush says Americans join the world in feeling enormous sadness on this first day of the New Year, because of the enormous toll from the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. The president has pledged $350 million to help those affected.

President Bush says the carnage in the Indian Ocean region is of a scale that defies comprehension.

"As the people of this devastated region struggle to recover, we offer our love and compassion, and our assurance that America will be there to help," said George W. Bush.

Mr. Bush says the U.S. flag will fly at half-staff in the coming week in remembrance of those killed.

The president has committed $350 million to the relief effort, and says those contributions will continue to be revised as the full effects of the tragedy become clearer.

The new aid announced Friday is 10 times the $35 million that Washington initially pledged. That first amount drew some criticism, considering the size and wealth of the United States, when compared to Britain's pledge of $95 million, or Sweden's pledge of $75 million.

In his weekly radio address, President Bush said more than 20 U.S. patrol and cargo aircraft have been made available to assess the disaster and deliver relief supplies. He says the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, a maritime squadron from Guam and an amphibious ship carrying a Marine Expeditionary Unit will soon be in position to support relief efforts, including supplying clean water.

President Bush is sending a delegation to the area Sunday, lead by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is already working with United Nations officials and other governments helping with the relief and rehabilitation effort.

"Together, we are leading an international coalition to help with immediate humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and long-term construction efforts," he said. "India, Japan and Australia have already pledged to help us coordinate these relief efforts, and I'm confident many more nations will join this core group in short order."

The president says he has spoken with the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, offering the United States' condolences, and praising what he calls their steadfast leadership.

In the weekly radio address of the opposition Democrats, South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn outlined his party's priorities for the coming year, including expanding health insurance coverage, lowering the cost of college and protecting the federal retirement program, known as Social Security.

That program will eventually run out of money, as fewer workers are supporting more and more retirees. President Bush wants younger workers to invest some of their retirement savings in the stock market to make more money.

Congressman Clyburn says those changes would threaten benefits.

"To jeopardize the solvency of this resoundingly successful program by gambling Social Security benefits on the stock market is a risk that President Bush and this Congress should resolve to avoid," said Jim Clyburn.

The president and Mrs. Bush return to the White House from their Texas ranch on Sunday. In the coming week, the president will meet with new members of Congress, and give a speech calling for changes in laws governing how patients can sue their doctors for medical malpractice.