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THE NATION

Bush, Democrats Focus on Jobs

The president says tax cuts will lead to growth. Critics point to current figures and the deficit.

August 31, 2003|Mark Fineman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — With more than 9 million Americans unemployed, President Bush and his Democratic opposition Saturday used the Labor Day weekend to showcase the good, the bad and the ugly of a stubbornly sluggish economy.

In his weekly radio address, Bush insisted that his $13 billion in tax cuts are beginning to bear fruit, citing a recent spurt in consumer spending that he said will fund job-creating business investment.

"This tax relief means that America's workers can save, invest and make purchases they have been putting off," Bush said. "Many moms and dads are using their extra income to take care of back-to-school expenses.

"As consumer spending rises, manufacturers are seeing more new orders for their goods," the president said.

"Now we must build on this progress and make sure that the economy creates enough new jobs for American workers."

But the Democrats, who are making jobs a key election issue, responded by focusing on the moms and dads who are out of work this Labor Day weekend, among the ranks of the newly unemployed.

They said 3.2 million private-sector jobs have disappeared since Bush took office. They called it the worst job-loss record since President Herbert Hoover's during the Depression, and asserted that the tax cuts continue to benefit only the wealthy.

"In fact, President Bush is the first president in seven decades to have actually lost jobs during his presidency," said Rep. Sherrod Brown of Ohio in the Democratic Party's radio address.

"And what is President Bush's response to this unprecedented job loss?" Brown asked. "More tax cuts for the most privileged people in our society. Under the Bush plan, the average millionaire gets a tax cut of $93,500. Most taxpayers get less than $100 in tax relief."

Bush, who is visiting Ohio, Missouri and Indiana this week to pitch his "agenda for job creation across America," had a different spin on the tax-cut numbers.

"For a family of four with a household income of $40,000," he asserted, "tax relief passed over the last 2 1/2 years means they get to keep nearly $2,000 more of their own money."

There was evidence last week to support both sides.

The president's rosy take on the economy was bolstered by a Commerce Department report that showed the U.S. economy growing more quickly than many economists had predicted.

A Labor Department report, though, appeared to reinforce the Democratic Party's job-loss contention, showing that the recovery not only is failing to create new jobs but also that old ones continue to vanish. The department reported that first-time unemployment-benefit claims went up by 3,000 for the week ended Aug. 23, for a seasonally adjusted total of 394,000.

Bush's aides have acknowledged that the president, who flew back to Washington on Saturday from a monthlong vacation at his ranch, is far from satisfied with the pace of the recovery.

In his address, Bush urged Congress to take steps he said would fuel the economy -- such as eliminating "junk lawsuits."

In his response, Brown placed blame for the ballooning deficit squarely on the shoulders of the president and his tax cuts:

"Rather than tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and huge budget deficits for our grandchildren, and nagging unemployment and economic stagnation, Democrats continue to fight hard for fiscal discipline and an economic plan that would put Americans back to work."

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