- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

CHICAGO President Bush yesterday took his tax-cut message to one of the world's busiest mercantile exchanges, intent on selling his message to tens of millions of middle-income Americans who have joined the investor class in the past two decades.

Speaking to traders and clerks from the cattle-futures pit the same spot where Hillary Rodham Clinton turned a $1,000 investment into a $100,000 profit in the 1970s after receiving preferential treatment from her broker Mr. Bush said small investors are "the backbone" of the American economy.

"The job of government is not to try to create wealth," Mr. Bush said to hundreds of Chicago Mercantile Exchange workers in blue, gold and red jackets. "That's not the role of government. The role of government is to create an environment in which the entrepreneur can realize his or her dreams."

The Standard & Poor's 500 trading pit, less than 50 feet away, was open as Mr. Bush spoke.

At times, Mr. Bush leaned close to the microphone to be heard over the constant din as brokers and clerks practiced the age-old "open outcry" method of trading.

"I'm reminded about the truth when I come to a place like this. The entrepreneurial spirit is what America is all about," he said as the crowd cheered. "I thought I had seen just about everything in life until I came here. It is an honor to be in entrepreneurial heaven."

With two days to go before the House is scheduled to take up his nearly $1 trillion, across-the-board tax rate cut, Mr. Bush also was targeting undecided members of Congress.

"Congressman [William O.] Lipinski is here with us," Mr. Bush said, referring to the 10-term Illinois Democrat. "We're going to fly back from here to Washington. He and I will have a little quality time together. I'm looking forward to it because he's a quality person."

The president used his stop at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where interest rates, stock indexes, foreign currencies and agricultural commodities are traded, to woo the millions of new investors who have moved up the economic ladder and now find themselves in higher tax brackets.

As many as 95 percent of entrepreneurs pay the highest income-tax rate, Mr. Bush said.

"When we cut that top rate … we're sending a loud and clear message that the entrepreneurial spirit will be reinvigorated as we head into the 21st century," Mr. Bush said. "Small business is the backbone of the country."

Over the past 20 years, the distribution of American families' financial assets shifted dramatically. In 1980, families had 53 percent of their liquid assets in bank accounts, and just over one-third in stocks or mutual funds. In 1999, the proportions had reversed: 62 percent in stocks and mutual funds, and 22 percent in bank deposits.

Polls show investors make up nearly 70 percent of the electorate. A poll taken the night before the Nov. 7 election by Investor's Business Daily found that the growing number of investors in moderate-income groups may have been one reason Mr. Bush did better than expected among those groups.

Before hitting the exchange floor, Mr. Bush dined with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat and brother of Al Gore's campaign chairman.

Mr. Bush's stop in Illinois which voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Gore in the 2000 election also was seen as a move to put pressure on Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin, who faces re-election in 2002.

He lobbied Illinois' Republican senator at 30,000 feet as Peter G. Fitzgerald accompanied him to Chicago on Air Force One. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, was to return to Washington on Air Force One. Mr. Durbin, who opposes Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan, was not asked to attend, a White House aide said.

The president plans to target other members of Congress tomorrow and Friday, when he travels to North and South Dakota and Louisiana. Mr. Bush won all three states in November, and Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Tim Johnson of South Dakota are up for re-election next year.

Mr. Bush's trip to the mercantile exchange, where 231 million contracts worth more than $155 trillion changed hands in 2000, came at the site of one of the earliest Clinton scandals Mrs. Clinton's trades in cattle futures for 10 months during the late 1970s.

In 1994, the White House released records showing Mrs. Clinton's commodities broker gave preferential treatment by allowing her to trade without depositing the required cash.

The broker was disciplined for violations in 1977, 1979 and 1981 by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Asked if Mr. Bush's choice of venue was an attempt to make a "Hillary Clinton connection," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said only: "It's an effort to talk about economic growth and encouraging entrepreneurship."

Said exchange clerk Brian McElwain: "Oh yeah, I forgot about Hillary and the cattle futures. Funny, huh?"

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