- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2001

President Bush last night told Congress that Americans have been overcharged on their taxes and declared, "I am here asking for a refund."
"The growing surplus exists because taxes are too high and government is charging more than it needs," Mr. Bush said to thunderous applause before a joint session of Congress delivered in the House chamber.
"The people of America have been overcharged and on their behalf, I am here asking for a refund. The surplus is not the government's money, the surplus is the people's money," he said to a boisterous standing ovation, one of 31 he received during the speech.
In his first address to Congress, Mr. Bush called on representatives and senators to pass his "reasonable and responsible" budget that funds the nation's priorities, pays down the national debt, limits spending and returns $1.6 trillion in overpaid taxes to Americans.
"Unrestrained government spending is a dangerous road to deficits, so we must take a different path. The other choice is to let the American people spend their own money to meet their own needs, to fund their own priorities and pay down their own debts," Mr. Bush said.
Democrats immediately panned the proposal formally submitted to Congress today as too much too soon. Many, apparently speaking from talking points, said the president's plan "doesn't add up."
"We want a significant tax cut this year, but we want a different kind," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said in a televised response after Mr. Bush's speech.
"A tax cut that is part of a responsible budget, that lets us pay off the debt, and invest in America's future. One that is fair to all Americans. President Bush's plan doesn't do those things."
Said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt: "President Bush's numbers just don't add up. Ours do. His plan leaves no money for anything except tax cuts. Ours does. Our plan is better. It invests in the greatest needs and highest priorities of our country."
Last night's prime-time speech by Mr. Bush was the first time a Republican president has addressed a joint session of Congress controlled by his party since 1954 before Hawaii and Alaska joined the Union.
He opened his 48-minute address of with a joking reference to his narrow victory.
"I thank you for your invitation to speak here tonight. I know Congress had to formally invite me, and it could have been a close vote. So, Mr. Vice President, I appreciate you being here to break the tie," he said to laughter. Vice President Richard B. Cheney will break any tie vote in the 50-50 Senate.
In the speech, which was interrupted for applause 76 times, Mr. Bush asked members of Congress to support his proposal to pay off $2 trillion of the nation's $3.2 trillion debt over 10 years. He also announced the creation of a $1 trillion contingency fund for priorities and unexpected needs, intended to quell Democrats' fears that his across-the-board tax cut is too large.
Mr. Bush said the politics-as-usual attitude inside the Beltway must end.
"Year after year in Washington, budget debates seem to come down to an old, tired argument: on one side, those who want more government, regardless of the cost; on the other, those who want less government, regardless of the need."
Mr. Bush said his budget plan straddles both sides. The fiscal 2002 proposal at this point merely a 150-page outline, with details to be filled in by April calls for increasing spending on Social Security, Medicare and entitlement programs by $81 billion.
The proposal also increases discretionary spending by another $26 billion, "a very responsible 4 percent, above the rate of inflation," Mr. Bush said. Spending rose more than 8 percent last year.
While laying out where his administration will spend money, Mr. Bush also targeted Democrats who say his tax cut interferes with repayment of the nation's debt.
Although it was not one of his top five priorities when he campaigned, Mr. Bush said last night: "Many of you have talked about the need to pay down our national debt. I have listened, and I agree."
His plan would retire $2.1 trillion in debt over 10 years all the debt that will be due by then. "That is more debt repaid more quickly than has ever been repaid by any nation at any time in history."
He also gave Democrats something to cheer when he said "racial profiling [is] wrong and we must end it," saying that earlier in the day he had told Attorney General John Ashcroft, whom the Congressional Black Caucus bitterly opposed, to develop recommendations toward that goal.
He also expressed support for a "Patients' Bill of Rights."
But the president said his administration's government will be "active but limited; engaged, but not overbearing" as it takes care of its priorities: "excellent schools, quality health care, a secure retirement, a cleaner environment and a stronger defense."
He called on Congress to act quickly on his tax-cut proposal, which he wants to take effect retroactive to Jan. 1.
"The chairman of the Federal Reserve [Alan Greenspan] has testified before Congress that tax cuts often come too late to stimulate recovery. So I want to work with you to give our economy an important jump-start by making tax relief retroactive," Mr. Bush said.
In the speech, Mr. Bush also announced the creation of a commission to study how to reform Social Security, which is projected to run out of money by 2040. Mr. Bush campaigned on allowing Americans to invest some of their Social Security taxes in private markets.
"Congress must begin work on other longer-term reforms, including reforms of Social Security and Medicare," he said.
Mr. Bush has spent the last two weeks traveling around the country to sell his plan, which he has made public one piece at a time, one day announcing an 11 percent increase in funding for education, another announcing a $21 billion increase for Medicare, which includes billions for a prescription-drug plan.
"No senior in America should have to choose between buying food and buying prescriptions," Mr. Bush said last night.
Mr. Bush also asked Congress to boost the military budget by $5.7 billion for pay raises and improvements in health care and housing.
The president believes that the $5.6 trillion projected surplus means Americans can have it all this year across-the-board tax cuts, billions more for education, the salvage of Social Security, the end of federal debt. The only caveat limit spending.
"This budget will represent the last stand of the big spenders," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Mr. Bush's tax proposal would trim all income-tax rates, cutting the top rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent and the lowest rate from 15 percent to 10 percent. The White House estimates 6 million Americans would be removed from the tax rolls under this plan.
But some Democrats think the plan is too ambitious, that Americans cannot have the federal programs they want and the return of their overpaid taxes.
"The president's tax plan is far more expensive than the $1.6 trillion he claims," Mr. Daschle claimed. "When you add interest on debt and other hidden costs, the true cost of the president's tax cut is well over $2 trillion."
Congressional Democrats favor a $900 billion tax cut nearly twice as much as they supported a year ago. They also want more spending on items such as prescription drug benefits and education.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said Mr. Bush's speech started "the most important national debate of this session of Congress, and maybe of the Bush administration… . This is the moment of truth."
But even before the speech, the failed candidate for vice president said: "I think [Mr. Bush's budget] is a copy of some old failed ideas that didn't work; in fact, that brought us into debt, higher interest rates and higher unemployment. That's not where we want to go again."
On the other side of the aisle, congressional Republican leaders hailed the president's budget outline as long overdue tax relief that still allows for more spending on priorities such as education and national security.
"We're excited about the priorities that he's outlined," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "The American people do want us to have tax relief while paying down, in an orderly way, the national debt."
Mr. Bush populated the "executive gallery" section of the House chamber with several members of his "tax families," whom he touted often on the campaign trail. Among them was the family of Steven and Josefina Ramos of West Chester, Pa., who paid $8,000 in income taxes last year but would pay $2,000 less under Mr. Bush's plan.
Also in the section were several teachers, a few religious leaders, a newly naturalized citizen, a brigadier general and District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams.
Mr. Bush heads out on the road today to sell his package, making stops during a two-day trip in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas and Georgia.
Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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