- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

KAUKAUNA, Wis. — Speaking to labor unions yesterday, President Bush took a swipe at Democrats who have criticized his across-the-board tax cut, questioning whether his critics believe that the way to bolster the sagging U.S. economy is to raise taxes.
Surrounded by hard hat-clad union carpenters in a Labor Day event near Green Bay, Mr. Bush lashed out at his congressional critics for second-guessing his $1.35 trillion tax-relief package.
"Like any policy, there will be second-guessers and you'll hear them. They'll say, 'Oh, we shouldn't have had tax relief.' … My question to the critics is: 'If you're against tax relief, does that mean you're for now raising people's taxes?'" Mr. Bush said.
The president's criticism resonated with many in the crowd on his first stop, a training facility for union carpenters and joiners in Local 955, which broke this spring from the AFL-CIO, a major Democratic Party ally. Union members in T-shirts and baseball caps jammed into a hot, empty warehouse and rewarded Mr. Bush with long interludes of thunderous applausepierced by wild whistling.
Mr. Bush's attack on his Democratic critics comes six weeks after House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt said he will push to raise taxes if the Democrats win control of the House next year. Mr. Gephardt said at a congressional fund-raising event in Des Moines, Iowa, that Democrats "did what was right" when Congress raised income and gas taxes in 1993 under President Clinton, adding "I'll do it again."
While top Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Tom Daschle, have backed away from threats to repeal Mr. Bush's tax cut, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, has vowed that the Senate will review the issue.
"We've got to go back and look at the Bush tax cut, which I think will be seen from hindsight of history as one of the most serious mistakes the federal government" has ever made, Mr. Lieberman said last month.
Democrats have accused Mr. Bush of busting the budget by returning to taxpayers a multibillion-dollar surplus of overpaid taxes. But the president warned Congress, which returns today to continue work on appropriation bills, to stay within already approved spending guidelines.
"There are folks who on the one hand wish they had more money to spend. But I'm going to tell you, we've got ample money in Washington, D.C. to spend, if we set our priorities," Mr. Bush said. "If Washington would only prioritize, we've got plenty of money to spend in Washington, D.C."
Mr. Bush said he is concerned about the state of the economy, which began sliding in mid-2000. "I worry about the families affected. I'm concerned about the children whose dad or mom may not be able to find work right now."
But he said the answer was "doing something strong for our economy. And that's taking your money and sending it back to where it belongs the taxpayers of America. Make no mistake about it, tax relief was the right thing to do at the right time," he said to applause.
On a stop in Detroit later in the afternoon for a barbecue with members of the Teamsters Union, Mr. Bush said, "When the American consumer spends, it is the best way to kick start a soft economy."
Mr. Bush was an unlikely guest at the halls of labor unions, whose members voted 2-1 for former Vice President Al Gore in November. But International Carpenters Union President Doug McCarron said dialogue is more important than partisan politics.
"It's no secret this isn't an administration we're going to agree with all the time," Mr. McCarron said. "But, Mr. President, we didn't agree with the last administration all the time either."
Mr. Bush said that despite past disagreements with Mr. McCarron, "We'll always answer his phone [call]; we'll always listen to what he has to say."
Detroit Teamsters President Larry Brennan echoed Mr. McCarron's sentiment, saying: "We need dialogue with both parties. We have not had a president of either party, as far as I know, come to a Teamsters event in the last 50 years."
Labor groups are heavy donors to Democratic candidates, but Republicans are finding new support among rank-and-file members.
The president is targeting the Teamsters, who delayed their endorsement of Mr. Gore while Mr. Bush courted union President James P. Hoffa, who did not attend yesterday's event because of a prior commitment. The union backed Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, as well as Mr. Bush's father in 1988.
The president enlisted the lobbying help of the powerful building trades unions in pushing his energy package through the House.
"We, for the first time, have got an energy policy that's supported by members of the unions because they understand good energy policy equals good in America," he said.

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