- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

WACO, Texas President Bush laid down in defiant terms at yesterday's economic summit a series of challenges to Congress to stop deficit spending, to pass a terrorism insurance bill and to make permanent last year's tax cuts.
He said he would not be forced to spend an unrequested $5 billion that Congress tacked onto an emergency $24 billion supplemental appropriation bill after the September 11 terrorist attacks, even though he had agreed to spend $1 billion of that for such projects as AIDS prevention in Africa and assistance to Israel and the Palestinians.
"Those who wrote the bill designed it so I have to spend all five of the extra billion dollars, or spend none of it," Mr. Bush told participants at Baylor University after eight sessions also attended by Vice President Richard B. Cheney and eight members of the Cabinet.
"Those are the rules they placed on my administration. I understand their position, and today they're going to learn mine. We'll spend none of it."
The crowd of 240 business and labor leaders, including many who had supported Vice President Al Gore and Democratic congressional candidates in the 2000 elections, applauded loudly.
Mr. Bush said, "A lot of that money has nothing to do with national emergency, and I'll give you one example: a new facility for storing the government's collection of bugs and worms."
Lawmakers also had included in the bill such items as $400 million for election reform and replacing punch-card voting machines, $9.3 million to beef up the Securities and Exchange Commission, $50 million for fighting forest fires, and $108.2 million for the Army Corps of Engineers.
In a news release yesterday, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, defended the bill and the bugs-and-worms project, which called for constructing a facility to house the Smithsonian's specimen collection.
The collection, which is stored on the National Mall in 730,000 gallons of alcohol, is "the equivalent of several jet planes loaded with fuel," Mr. Byrd said, adding that to wait to spend the money would "take great risks with human lives."
The president said he would send Congress a request for a new appropriation bill for just the $1 billion he had agreed to spend in the remaining 48 days of the current fiscal year.
"However, we're not going to spend $4 billion we don't need in order to unlock $1 billion we do. For the good of our economy, for the good of the people who pay taxes, my administration will spend what is truly needed and not a dollar more," Mr. Bush said.
The president laid down other challenges to Congress before leaving on a two-day swing to Milwaukee; Des Moines, Iowa; and Grand Rapids, S.D.
At an earlier session on economic recovery and job creation, Larry Johnston, chairman and chief executive of Albertson's grocery and drug stores, asked for federal help to reduce insurance and legal costs that force businesses to lay off workers.
"We need terrorist insurance, we need tort reform, we need pension protection for our workers now, not later," Mr. Johnston told the president. "Those are very positive signs, I think, that will bring the economy steaming back."
Doug McCarron, president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, also pleaded for a terrorism insurance policy.
At the wrap-up session, Mr. Bush agreed, saying, "I want to get American construction workers back to work. And that's why we need a terrorism insurance policy. There's over $8 billion of commercial construction that [was] suspended last year. That means $8 billion worth of projects in which somebody is going to be able to work and put food on the table for their family."
Capitol Hill Democrats called the forum "one-sided," a "half-baked PR stunt" and a "donor maintenance event."
"Under this administration, we've lost nearly 2 million jobs, $7 trillion in the market, and more than $5 trillion of the surplus," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "A made-for-TV economic forum isn't going to solve our problems or ease families' concerns."
Several Democrats blamed the economy's condition on Mr. Bush's 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, called for the administration to postpone future phases of the cut.
Mr. Bush heard a lot from summit participants about taxes.
Van Eure, owner of the Angus Barn Restaurant in Raleigh, N.C., said she was hit twice by "the death tax" when her parents died 14 years apart.
"The death tax is punitive on small-business owners," Mr. Bush responded. "It's very tough on farmers and ranchers. It's hard to be able to keep your farm and your family if you've got a big appraisal value when a loved one dies. And so we've put the death tax on its way to extinction."
However, the president said, "as a result of a quirk in the law," the tax will be resurrected in 2011, "and so we have to make the repeal of the death tax permanent."
The president had harsh words for corporations and executives in the Enron, WorldCom and other accounting scandals that he was careful to say "were long in the making, they finally have come to light."
"I say as plainly as I can to CEOs: If you break the law, we will hunt you down, we will arrest you, and we'll prosecute you," Mr. Bush said. "We expect the highest of high standards Americans expect from those of us in positions of responsibility."
The president had some friendly bantering with forum participants, who included 55 corporate CEOs, nine senior union executives, and many Hispanic and black business owners and workers.
Participants bridled at Democratic and media criticisms that the forum was staged for political show just weeks before the November congressional elections.
"Of course there's politics involved. But nobody does this kind of thing for show," said Allen Sinai, president and chief global economist for Decision Economics in New York and Boston.
Mr. Sinai said the administration and Congress "need to take measures to get economic growth up, make permanent tax cuts already in place, reducing rates forward for middle- and low-income families, and be aggressive on corporate governance and responsibility issues."
Bob Nardelli, chairman and CEO of Home Depot stores in Atlanta, called the forum "a wonderful cross-section" of people from all walks of life, perspectives and races. He praised the president and administration for being "very engaging" on pressing national issues.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report from Washington.

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