- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 4, 2001

AUSTIN, Texas Three dozen U.S. business leaders meeting here in an economic forum yesterday solidly backed President-elect George W. Bush's tax-relief plan, then received a bonus as the Federal Reserve Board cut interest rates.

One participant said the conferees exchanged "high fives" and another said they toasted Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan as the news filtered into the private session during lunch.

Several praised Mr. Bush's plan to cut taxes by $1.3 trillion over the next decade, saying the tax cut would give a much-needed boost to the slumping economy.

Mr. Bush, clearly impressed with the business leaders and their frankness "A lot of folks in this room have brought some pretty bad news," he acknowledged later said the Federal Reserve move was long needed, but said his tax-cut plan will be "an integral part of economic recovery."

Jack Welch, chairman of General Electric, praised both Mr. Bush and Mr. Greenspan for "aggressively" trying to forestall what he termed "a sharp and real" slowdown of the nation's economy.

He said we "all had a chance to rejoice a little bit" as they learned of the interest-rate move while the conferees were having lunch. "We all raised a glass of water to Mr. Greenspan," he said, adding, "We all believe it is in the right direction."

Mr. Welch said most of the group "embraced [Mr. Bush's] thinking around tax policy. We think we need a fiscal stimulus to go with the rate cuts."

Lawrence B. Lindsey, named by Mr. Bush to head the White House economic team, slipped out of the luncheon to go to a nearby television set to see exactly what Mr. Greenspan had done.

"Great," he grinned to several reporters nearby, "The Fed is always right."

Mr. Bush's willingness to listen to economic opinions from the wide variety of business leaders and the unexpected rate cut made it "a very optimistic, upbeat, very open discussion," Mr. Lindsey said. "I couldn't have been happier with the meeting."

Jack Faris, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, said his group had become deeply concerned about a downward sales spiral and "that's why we're encouraging the president to hold true to the tax cut he discussed in the campaign."

"When they were proposed, we thought they sounded good," said Mr. Faris, "but now, they not only sound good, they're truly needed.

"It's good to hear that there is light at the end of the economic tunnel," he added.

Terry Jorde, president of Country Bank USA in North Dakota, told Mr. Bush that rural America was in a crisis, and had been for the past eight years.

Tax relief and economic incentives to develop jobs in rural America are a must, said Mrs. Jorde, who said she felt Mr. Bush had been receptive to her pleas.

Steve Forbes, an original opponent of Mr. Bush's for the presidency, praised the Bush economic initiatives, particularly his tax-cut plans, which he called "very timely."

"It was a good idea six months ago, or 12 months ago. It's even better and more needed today," said the president of Forbes Inc.

Mr. Forbes said the Greenspan move yesterday was welcome, but added, "much more must be done."

"The Federal Reserve tightened [the money supply] for far too long had this weird notion that there's something wrong with prosperity. There isn't anything wrong with prosperity, except not having it. I'm glad that Mr. Greenspan seems to be realizing that," he said.

John T. Chambers, president and CEO of Cisco Systems Inc., said there was unanimous agreement among the conferees that what the Fed did was a helpful step. "The only brief we had with it was that it wasn't done earlier," he said.

Mr. Chambers said he felt this was but the first step and that both Congress and the Fed should do more "in terms of economic stimulus across the board."

The Cisco chief executive said he considered the forum "an excellent meeting" and demonstrated on the part of the incoming administration "a willingness to both listen and demonstrate a commitment to the promises he made during the campaign."

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