- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

President Bush has been emphasizing his domestic agenda since the war began because he wants to avoid the fate of his father, who was portrayed as letting Iraq overshadow the economy.

"The economy was recovering as he lost the election, but people didn't know it," Mr. Bush wrote in his memoirs, "A Charge To Keep." "Bill Clinton managed to convince people, I think unfairly, but nonetheless convincingly, that he had a plan to improve the economy but my father did not."

To prevent a repeat of that scenario, the president began talking up the economy and other domestic initiatives on Thursday, less than 20 hours after ordering the first military strike against Iraq. He invited reporters to witness the end of a Cabinet meeting, although he did not allow questions, which would have focused on the war.

"We discussed the need to make sure we have plans in place to encourage economic vitality and growth," Mr. Bush said. "We will continue to push for a Medicare system that is compassionate for our seniors.

"We care deeply about the fact that some children in our society can't read," he added. "We want the best of education for every citizen in America."

Although some found the rhetoric incongruous in the opening stages of a war, the president was determined to convey the message that he has not abandoned the bread-and-butter issues that will be important in his re-election. Yesterday, as the "shock and awe" portion of the war got under way, Mr. Bush issued a statement on the economy.

"As we engage in action to ensure freedom and security, it is imperative that we stay focused on important domestic priorities, including creating jobs and strengthening economic growth at home," he said.

The president went on to praise the House for passing his budget resolution.

"The House has spoken clearly that future economic growth and job creation requires passing the bold plan that I proposed," Mr. Bush said. " I commend the House for its timely action and look forward to working with Congress to ensure that we fund our priorities, enact policies to spur growth and restrain spending."

Asked by reporters to comment on the war, the president referred them to the Pentagon. He left the White House for Camp David after keeping a relatively low profile all day. Although the bulk of his weekend will be consumed with prosecution of the war, the White House insists his domestic agenda will not go dormant.

"Interestingly, throughout this process … the president has daily briefings on domestic affairs, what is pending in the Congress," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "That continues to be an important area.

"He spends considerable time in the Oval Office," he added. "And a fair portion of that time is devoted to domestic matters."

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