Union Tribune

April 25, 2003

Bush takes tax-cut message to deficit hawk's home state


NORTH CANTON, Ohio Without mentioning him by name, President Bush sent an unmistakable message yesterday to Sen. George Voinovich that he should rethink his opposition to the president's $550 billion tax cut.

"Some in Congress say the plan is too big," he said, pitching what he insists is the right tonic for a struggling domestic economy. "If they agree that tax relief creates jobs, then why are they for a little-bitty tax relief package?"

Bush's one-day venture into the politically pivotal state of Ohio was among the first of many trips the White House says he will take nationwide to sell a tax cut totaling at least $550 billion over 10 years. It was his ninth foray into the state since taking office in January 2001.

After talking taxes and job creation at the Canton-based Timken Co., a manufacturer of bearings and steel, Bush flew to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. There, he boarded a helicopter, which ferried him to Lima and the Lima Army Tank Plant, manufacturer of the military's formidable Abrams M1A2 tank.

Bush's trip to Canton has been widely interpreted as an effort to pressure Voinovich to drop his opposition to any tax cut larger than $350 billion. Bush's plan would accelerate income tax reductions scheduled to go into effect later in the decade. It would also carve out tax breaks for businesses and abolish the individual tax on stock dividends. The White House says the overall package would create more than 1 million jobs by the end of next year.

Voinovich, a longtime deficit hawk, is one of two Republican senators whose insistence on a smaller package has effectively blocked passage of a tax cut in the GOP-dominated Congress. He has vowed not to support a more generous plan unless spending is reduced to pay for it.

Appearing in the former Cleveland mayor's back yard, Bush sought to answer Voinovich's primary objections: that the proposed 10-year tax cut is too large and will boost the federal budget deficit to dangerous levels.

"When we put the job and growth package together, I didn't set arbitrary limits on tax relief," Bush told about 800 Timken employees, who cheered his call for a tax cut. "Instead, I asked what does the economy need? . . . What will create the most jobs?"

Bush dismissed arguments that the rising federal deficit, heading toward $400 billion next year, and the costs of the war in Iraq make a tax cut imprudent.

Bush said the deficit is the result of war spending and the recession, which has reduced tax revenues.

"The best way to solve the deficit is to grow the revenues coming into the Treasury through economic vitality and have fiscal sanity in Washington," he said.

In a brief but cordial meeting, Voinovich greeted Bush as the president stepped off Air Force One at the Wright-Patterson base. The senator later reported that the president did not try to lobby him on the tax cut.

"I think he knows where I'm at," Voinovich said after he and the president shook hands and patted each other on the arm. "If we can find the offsets, we can do more than $350 billion," he added.