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Bush: The Question Now Is How Much

Debate over the tax cut is over, and his views prevailed, the president says. Democrats contend the real issue is deficits.

May 11, 2003|EDWIN CHEN | Times Staff Writer

SANTA FE, N.M. — President Bush claimed victory Saturday in his quest for a new round of tax cuts, even as lawmakers continued to haggle over key details of a pared-down package.

The debate, the president said with clear satisfaction, is no longer whether to have another tax cut, but how large the cut should be.

Bush plans to resume aggressively touting his "jobs and growth" package across the heartland after a weekend of rest and relaxation in this wind-swept, high-desert community.

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Touting His Agenda

With stops in Albuquerque and Omaha on Monday, and in Indianapolis on Tuesday, Bush intends to spotlight different components of his economic agenda, White House officials said.

Bush's unstinting emphasis on tax cuts might not be without political risks, however.

Democrats increasingly are blaming his earlier $1.35 trillion in tax cuts for worsening the federal budget deficit, putting states in dire fiscal straits and hampering economic recovery in general.

Yet the continuing wrangling over the cuts -- as Campaign 2004 looms -- also highlights the Democratic Party's challenges in taking on a popular president who is seeking to harness his post-Iraq war popularity to generate further public support for himself and his priorities.

In the weekly Democratic radio address, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey pointed out that 46 states face budget deficits totaling $70 billion, and added:

"The stimulus package offered by the president fails to provide a single dollar in aid to the states."

The Senate bill would include $20 billion in direct aid to states.

"While our president has shown tremendous leadership in the war on terrorism and the conflict in Iraq, the economic policies of this administration have created the largest national deficit in history and left the states facing their worst economic crisis since World War II," McGreevey said.

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Praise for the House

In his own weekly radio address, Bush praised the House for adopting a bill Friday that would cut taxes for individuals and businesses by $550 billion over 11 years -- even though that falls short of the $725 billion that Bush had initially sought.

Bush said Saturday that his plan would create "more than a million jobs by the end of next year," through immediate tax relief for families and businesses.

In the last three months alone, more than half a million jobs have been lost, bringing to 2 million the number of jobs lost since Bush became president.

In speeches around the country, he has blamed a number of factors for the economy's performance, including a recession that began before he took office and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that deepened it.

A new round of tax cuts has become "even more urgent" than when he proposed it in January because of rising unemployment, which reached 6% last week, Bush said.

But even as work on the tax bill continues on Capitol Hill, Bush said the hardest battle was already won.

"This week's progress demonstrates that both houses of Congress and both political parties agree that tax relief will help this economy," he said Saturday.

"Now the discussion is about how much tax relief the American people need and deserve. We need at least $550 billion in tax relief over the next decade -- big enough to make a real difference in the paychecks of American workers, big enough to help entrepreneurs create more jobs, and big enough to give our economy the boost it needs."

Despite occasionally gusty winds, the president Saturday played a round of afternoon golf -- his 16th as president and the first since August. Among his partners was Roland Betts, his host.

Betts, a New York Democrat, and Bush were fraternity brothers at Yale. The also were business partners in the Texas Rangers baseball team. Betts and his wife own an 11.7-acre property northwest of town.

The president last winter also was a house guest at Betts' Jackson Hole, Wyo., estate. Betts is chairman and founder of Chelsea Piers, a large entertainment and sports complex on Manhattan's West Side.

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