Canton Repository

April 25, 2003

Bush stumps for tax cut

Copley Washington correspondent

JACKSON TWP. -- Without publicly mentioning him by name, President Bush on Thursday sent an unmistakable message to Sen. George Voinovich that he should rethink his opposition to Bush’s half-a-trillion-dollar tax cut.

“Some in Congress say the plan is too big,” Bush said while 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 world-class manufacturer of bearings and steel, Bush flew to Dayton’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. 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.

Relishing the opportunity to focus attention on America’s armaments industry, Bush inspected two of the huge armored-weapons systems before addressing the workers.

Without declaring ultimate victory in the Iraqi war, Bush, exulting in the demise of Baghdad’s dictator, boasted, “One thing is certain: Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.”

But he also addressed the fact that military inspection teams have so far come up empty in the search for weapons of mass destruction. Locating and neutralizing those weapons was a key rationale for the controversial war. Vowing that the hunt is just beginning, Bush said, “We know he had them. And whether he destroyed them, moved them or hid them, we’re going to find out the truth.”

Bush’s trip to Stark County 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 also would carve out tax breaks for business and abolish the individual tax on stock dividends. The White House claims 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 later this year. 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 850 Timken employees, who loudly 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 revenue.

“The best way to solve the deficit is to grow the revenue 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. ... We’re very, very good friends,” said Voinovich 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.

Voinovich cited a previous public commitment at a Veterans Hospital in Dayton as the reason he did not attend the Stark County or Lima events.

Earlier at the Timken Research facility, W.R. “Tim” Timken Jr., chairman of the Timken Co., introduced the president, saying that the Bush tax cut is “the best way to put people to work and drive our economy.”

The White House said almost 92 million Americans, including more than 5 million in Ohio, would enjoy lower tax bills if Bush’s plan were passed.

In a rebuttal prepared well in advance of the president’s speech, House Democrats circulated a study showing that Bush’s proposal to eliminate individual taxes on dividends would mean an average annual savings of only about $54 for nearly 90 percent of Ohioans. They said that the main beneficiaries of the plan would be corporate executives.

In Lima, Bush warned that the reconstruction of Iraq will be difficult.

“You see, Iraq is recovering not just from weeks of conflict but from decades of totalitarian rule,” he said.

Bush said the United States has sent teams over to provide food, restore electricity and offer medical expertise and supplies.

He also welcomed expressions of freedom and religious fervor in Iraq, which has included criticism of the U.S. presence there.

“Today, in Iraq, there’s discussion, debate, protest, all the hallmarks of liberty,” he said. “The path to freedom may not always be neat and orderly, but it is the right of every person and every nation.”

After the speech at Timken, the remarks of several employees suggested Bush’s sales job was effective.

Anthony Confalone of Canton, a mechanical apprentice at Timken, said he had been skeptical of the rationale for a tax cut. But after the president spoke, Confalone said, “I’m sold on it.”

Sherie Hilbert of Carrollton, another Timken worker, criticized Voinovich for standing in the president’s way. She accused the senator of “wimping out,” adding, “he needs to stick up for the people and do the right thing.”

But Linda Wagner of North Canton said she agrees more with Voinovich than Bush on a tax cut. “Deficits concern me,” she said.

Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, accompanied Bush on Air Force One to the Akron-Canton Regional Airport. Sen. Michael DeWine, Gov. Bob Taft and Stephen Perry, a former Timken executive who is now administrator of the General Services Administration, also were there.

Bush began his Stark County visit by sitting down with local owners of small businesses for a private roundtable discussion.