Union Tribune

April 15, 2003

NATION
In shift from war, Bush will pitch tax-cutting plan
GOP worried about health of economy


By FINLAY LEWIS
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON Taxpayers scrambling to meet tonight's filing deadline can expect to hear a sympathetic message from President Bush as he attempts to exploit their frustrations to advance his own political agenda.

Executing a quick pivot from the war in Iraq, Bush plans to use the White House Rose Garden today as the setting to pitch his tax-cut plan.

Beneath the timing lies a deep vein of concern in Republican ranks that the president's re-election prospects next year may hinge as much on the economy's health as on the country's battlefield triumphs overseas.

"His one major vulnerability right now continues to be the economy," said Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California San Diego. "The prospect that this may be the first administration since World War II to end up with a net loss of jobs is not something they want on his record."

With many economists arguing that the Bush administration is running short of time to accelerate the economy's growth rate, the president is accelerating his efforts to convince voters that his 10 year, $726 billion tax cut plan is the right tonic for reversing a net erosion in job creation that has occurred on his watch.

Among the key indicators worrying the president's political advisers is a finding from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that 109.1 million Americans worked in the private sector last month, a decline of 2.6 million jobs since his inauguration more than two years ago.

If that trend continues, Bush would become the first president in more than half a century to end a term with a negative growth rate in this category.

Even his father was in positive territory barely at the end of four years. Even so, he lost his re-election bid in part because economic concerns outweighed his wartime accomplishment in ousting Saddam Hussein's armies from Kuwait in 1991.

Many analysts contend that the president's situation is less dire than his father's.

For example, President George H.W. Bush watched a recession overshadow his military triumph in the Persian Gulf, while a number of economists say growth may well quicken this year.

A respected economic forecaster, Macroeconomic Advisers, recently reported that it expects 4.4 percent growth in the second half of this year because "a favorable outcome in Iraq . . . will be followed by improvements in business, investor and consumer confidence."

At the moment, however, Bush's team is taking nothing for granted.

In addition to his remarks today, the president plans to deploy a platoon of about 25 Cabinet and sub-Cabinet-level officials across the country over the next two weeks to try to sell voters on his tax-cutting economic stimulus plan.

The administration's strike team will fan out, hitting 40 cities in 26 states in an effort to focus popular pressure on lawmakers.

The mission's urgency stems in part from a rebellion by a handful of moderate Republican senators who last week executed a parliamentary squeeze play that promises to limit Bush's tax cut to about half its proposed size about $350 billion over 10 years.

Unless reversed, that action threatens to doom the centerpiece of the Bush plan, a proposal that would eliminate federal taxes on stockholders' dividends.