- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2001

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — President Bush, who has been criticized for failing to use the bully pulpit, yesterday gave an impassioned, 39-minute speech rebutting Democratic charges that his tax cut has decimated the federal surplus and warning Congress not to overspend the budget.
In the first visit by a Republican president to Truman High School, Mr. Bush told 2,000 cheering Missourians that today's midsession review by the White House Office of Management and Budget will prove that his tax cut has not precluded funding increases for education and the military.
"You will hear people say that tax relief is going to make it hard to meet the budget," the president said. "But reality is: Tax relief is important to make sure our economy grows."
He added: "The biggest threat to our recovery is for Congress to overspend."
Democrats immediately attacked the president with TV ads in Missouri; Washington, D.C.; and Waco, Texas, that accuse him of hurting senior citizens by raiding Social Security and Medicare. Democrats also said he never should have cut taxes in such a weak economy.
"Bush has a lot of explaining to do," said Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "After pledging time and again not to raid the Medicare and Social Security trust funds, his budget does just that."
Bush counselor Karen Hughes flatly disputed that assertion, insisting that "the Medicare trust fund is fully funded." Mr. Bush himself was even more forceful, saying today's OMB report will show "that we've got enough money to preserve and protect Social Security."
The president took pains to remind his audience that the economy began to sputter during the Clinton administration.
"Our budget is in strong financial shape, despite an economic slowdown that began last year," he said. "The slowdown is serious, folks, make no mistake about it. It's real. Since last summer, the economy has grown by a little over 1 percent. That's a slowdown.
"Inevitably, the slowing economy has resulted in slower tax revenues, lower corporate profits and, in some cases, layoffs.
"Yet, despite the yearlong trend, despite the fact that this has been going on for a year, the federal budget will have the second-largest surplus in history, in part because this administration took immediate action to address the downturn," the president said. "We took exactly the right action, at the right time, by pushing the largest tax cut in a generation."
Mr. Bush received three standing ovations during his speech, which was one of the longest and most spirited of his presidency. Often criticized for failing to exploit the power of the bully pulpit, Mr. Bush surprised some observers yesterday by vigorously pre-empting his Democratic critics. It was an aggressive effort to frame the looming budget battle with Congress as a choice between the Republican Party's fiscal discipline and the Democratic Party's urge to overspend.
"I believe there are some who resent tax relief because they wanted more of your money in Washington, D.C.," Mr. Bush said. "It's a fundamental philosophical difference."
He added: "This tax relief has laid the foundation for expanding economic growth. And now we must resist the temptation of a bigger threat to growth, and that's excessive federal spending."
After the president finished speaking, Democrats from Congress and the former Clinton administration held a conference call with reporters who were traveling with the president here. The call was organized by the DNC, whose chairman, Mr. McAuliffe, said Mr. Bush "has betrayed the trust of the American people and is playing irresponsible games with the American economy."
"Bush should honor Harry Truman's memory by telling the truth about the budget to the American people," Mr. McAuliffe said. "He should come clean on his raid of Medicare and put forth a new budget proposal that truly protects Medicare and Social Security."
The TV ad campaign was put together with help from former aides in the Clinton-Gore administration.
To keep the attack alive, Mr. McAuliffe might come to the president's vacation hometown of Crawford, Texas, today to criticize the OMB report.
Mr. Bush said that although Mr. Clinton routinely tried to overspend, there is now "a new sheriff in town." He dismissed the DNC ad campaign as partisan politics.
"A lot of people still want to politicize the budget," the president said. "They like the old-time wars of zero-sum politics. There are a lot of big spenders, a lot of highly partisan people that really didn't like the tax cut to begin with."
Mr. Bush added: "They want the government to have the people's money."
The president also made clear he has no intention of proposing a new budget and implored Congress to abide by the old one. Signaling his resolve to reject pork-laden appropriations bills, Mr. Bush mentioned the possibility of government shutdowns for the second day in a row, although he said such an outcome is unlikely.
Similarly, he issued his second warning to Congress not to make military and education funding the last priorities among the 13 appropriations bills that will be debated this fall.
And he urged the public to be vigilant against congressional trickery in the appropriations process.
"Even though I'm optimistic, there are some temptations that will face the Congress when they come back," he said.


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