WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush was busy Tuesday cleaning off his desk before the Christmas holiday break, signing a string of legislation into law to guard Americans against junk e-mail messages, increase home ownership for the low-incomed and protect children from ill-effects of medicine prescribed for them.
On the international front, meanwhile, news reached Bush that former Secretary of State James A. Baker III had come away from Paris and Berlin with agreements to work toward reducing or restructuring a major obstacle to Iraq reconstruction -- some [email protected]$!120 billion in debt racked up by Saddam Hussein during his decades in power.
"Debt restructuring and reduction is critical to helping the Iraqi people build a free and prosperous nation," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "Therefore, France, Germany and the United States agree that there should be substantial debt reduction for Iraq in the Paris Club (of creditor nations) in 2004, and will work closely with each other and with other countries to achieve this objective."
Baker, who left Washington Monday as Bush's point man on debt restructuring, was also slated to visit Italy and Russia before returning to the United States on Friday.
Since the first of December Bush has signed dozens of bills into law, foremost among them Medicare reform, which provides for prescription drug benefits to seniors.
On Tuesday the president started his day penning the CANN-SPAM Act, which establishes administrative, civil and criminal tools to allow consumers to stop receipt of unsolicited spam (junk e-mail messages) on the Internet.
Under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, senders of spam face civil penalties for sending messages to consumers who have requested them not to do so. Sending spam with unmarked sexually oriented material would be a criminal offense.
Under the American Dream Downpayment Act, up to 40,000 low-income Americans each year would be given up to [email protected]$!10,000 or 6 percent of the total purchase price of a home to help them with their first purchase of a home. The president said it was part of his goal to add 5.5 million low-income, minority Americans to the roll of homeowners by the end of the decade.
"One of the biggest hurdles to homeownership is getting money for a down payment," Bush said at a signing ceremony. "This administration has recognized that, and so today I'm honored to be here to sign a law that will help many low-income buyers to overcome that hurdle, and to achieve an important part of the American Dream."
Under other legislation signed into law Tuesday, drug makers are required to conduct safety tests on children's medicines, and a National Museum of African-American History and Culture is being established within the Smithsonian Institution.
The families of law enforcement officers, firemen and other public service emergency personnel who die of a heart attack or stroke at work, meanwhile, would be eligible for a special federal benefit under a different law.
The signings and Baker's trip came in what started as a stellar week for the president. One Sunday, the administration announced that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been captured the day before in Iraq.
Saddam, Bush said Monday, should be tried by the Iraqis for the mass killings committed during his rule.
The prospect has been criticized by European leaders and human rights groups, which want Saddam subject to an international court.
"He's made it very clear that the Iraqi people should know that Saddam Hussein will be held to account for the atrocities he committed and for the brutality he carried out on the Iraqi people," McClellan said. "He's going to face the justice that he denied to millions of Iraqis while he was in power for decades."