- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush this weekend will take his economic proposal to the American people, holding a town hall meeting in California geared toward putting pressure on Senate Democrats who stalled the stimulus plan late last year.
"The president is going to continue to urge the Democrats in the Senate to act, and the American people can help by letting Congress know that they are hurting and worried about our economic situation," said Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
"The president is going to continue to talk to the American people directly about his economic-growth and job-creation proposals."
Tomorrow, the president will fly to Ontario, Calif., a city of 160,000 about 40 miles east of Los Angeles, to hold a town hall meeting. Later in the day, Mr. Bush will travel to Portland, Ore., and just as he did at a recent town hall stop in Orlando, Fla. will visit an employment center before addressing workers and business leaders.
Ontario, a Republican stronghold in a Democratic-majority state, is mostly white 7 percent of the population is black but nearly 50 percent Hispanic.
The city, home to a large airport and a growing distribution hub in southern California, has not been hit by the recent economic downturn and has an unemployment rate of less than 5 percent, said Mayor Gary Ovitt.
"Many people who work in Los Angeles or even Disneyland can't afford to live near there, and our city is much more affordable," Mr. Ovitt said.
About 5,000 people are expected to attend tomorrow's event at the Ontario Convention Center.
At the town hall meeting, Mr. Bush will stress two key tenets of his 2002 domestic agenda. "The two E's the economy and education will be where he begins the new year," Mr. McClellan said.
The Bush spokesman said the president does not plan to offer a new proposal, but will continue to work with lawmakers on the package, a combination of personal and business tax cuts and aid for the unemployed.
The Democrat-controlled Senate blocked the plan in the closing days of the congressional session last year, saying the administration failed to provide adequate health benefits and other support for laid-off workers.
Since then, a group of economists has predicted the economy will rebound by spring with or without any additional stimulus.
"Given the stimulus already in the pipeline, the recovery will happen regardless of the timing or size of an additional federal spending package," concluded the 23 economists, who represent financial institutions, consulting firms and university forecasting centers.
Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, have accused Mr. Bush of giving domestic issues short shrift as he leads the worldwide coalition battling terrorism.
Mindful of the fate of his father who soared in approval ratings after the Persian Gulf war but lost the 1992 campaign when he was portrayed as indifferent to the flagging economy Mr. Bush is expected to focus on his domestic agenda for the early part of 2002.
"He may not be a student of the presidency, but he is a student of one president his father," said historian Stephen Hess, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.
"It's a good time to return to the domestic agenda. Phase 1 of the Afghanistan war is complete and America is looking to a return by the president to the things Americans most care about," Mr. Hess said.
Mr. Hess said it is too early to tell if the goodwill Mr. Bush has earned since September 11 his approval rating stands at nearly 90 percent will translate into support for his domestic agenda.
But with an election at the end of this year, Mr. Hess is not optimistic.
"Gridlock is absolutely predictable this year. I would be very surprised if this era of good feeling lasts much longer."
Mr. Bush has made one concession to the stalled bill, formerly labeled an "economic stimulus" package. Mr. McClellan yesterday called the proposal an "economic security" plan.


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