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Bush to Stump for Economic Recovery Plan

Politics: The president will make several stops, including one in Ontario, Calif., to promote a bill stalled in the Senate.

January 04, 2002|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CRAWFORD, Texas — After more than a week of virtual seclusion at his ranch, President Bush is preparing a burst of high-profile appearances across the country to display his determination to revive the U.S. economy.

The president's bicoastal itinerary suggests he is ready to begin expending some of the political capital he has gained as a wartime commander to promote his domestic priorities, many of which are opposed by Democrats.

Above all, Bush intends to apply new and very public pressure on the Democrat-controlled Senate to enact his moribund economic stimulus measure, which the White House has renamed the "economic security bill."

Bush aides indicated that the president will take a more active role in the coming debate--starting at a town hall meeting in Ontario, Calif., on Saturday--than he did late last year when the measure stalled in the Senate after its approval by the Republican-controlled House.

"We're . . . fighting a recession here at home, and that's right at the top of the agenda," Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday.

Bush also will focus on his economic bill--a mix of large tax breaks for business, an accelerated cut in income tax rates and expanded benefits for the unemployed--in his weekly Saturday radio address, aides said. To further drum up public support, Bush's top economic advisors will make the rounds on the Sunday TV talk shows.

Senate Democrats blocked the bill, charging it was too skewed toward business and failed to adequately address health care needs for the unemployed.

For Bush, looming over the dispute is the political fate of his father, who won the Persian Gulf War but lost his presidential reelection bid largely because of voter dissatisfaction with his handling of the economy.

Popularity Remains Strong After Attacks

Although Bush's high job approval ratings--earned for his response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--remain undiminished, his bid to escalate pressure on Senate Democrats raises the question of whether he can transfer that popularity to his domestic agenda.

So far, the Democrats have resisted his limited efforts to prod them into action on his economic plan, as well as on controversial proposals to increase federal funding for faith-based charitable groups and to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration. And the more Bush seeks to spotlight such issues, the more he risks a tumble in the polls.

In addition to touting his economic bill in the coming days, Bush plans to discuss education, a topic he has more to crow about. Education reform was one of his domestic priorities, and shortly before Christmas, Congress gave final approval to a measure designed to improve public schools. Bush intends to sign the bill next week amid considerable fanfare.

In light of the Sept. 11 attacks and the still-unsolved anthrax outbreaks, he also plans to embrace a new domestic initiative: building up the nation's public health infrastructure to better respond to bioterrorism threats.

Bush Will Go to Austin for Portrait Unveiling

Today, in his first trip out of Crawford since arriving Dec. 26, Bush returns to the state capital in Austin, Texas, where he served as governor from 1995 until his election to the White House. A portrait of Bush will be unveiled, joining those of other former governors displayed at the statehouse.

After his stop in Ontario, Bush is to fly to Portland, Ore., where he will tour a job center and speak at a high school. Next week, he plans to go to Ohio, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

The president's only excursion off the ranch was a brief visit to the Coffee Station, a diner at the center of this crossroads hamlet, for a cheeseburger lunch on New Year's Eve day. Bush has fished and spent hours clearing brush on his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch. But he has continued to do some work, such as holding daily national security briefings and preparing for his first State of the Union speech.

In a sign of a White House gearing up for the battles ahead, two of the president's closest advisors have joined him in Crawford in recent days: White House Counselor Karen Hughes and chief political strategist Karl Rove.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice arrived at the ranch Wednesday, replacing an aide who was here earlier during Bush's stay.

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