- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

ONTARIO, Calif. President Bush yesterday scoffed at claims by Democratic critics that his $1.3 trillion tax cut caused the current economic slowdown and warned them that new tax increases will pass only "over my dead body."
The president took indirect aim at Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who Friday asserted that the president's 10-year tax-code restructuring passed in May has left America unable to meet its fiscal needs.
"Somebody told me the funniest thing. They said, 'There are some in Washington saying that the tax cut caused the recession.' I don't know what economic textbook they're reading," the president said, drawing laughter and applause.
And just minutes after a Bush spokesman suggested the majority leader was "laying the groundwork" for a repeal of the later stages of the Bush tax cut, the president said any such effort would be pointless.
"There's going to be people who say, 'We can't have the tax cut go through any more.' That's a tax raise. And I challenge their economics, when they say raising taxes will help the country recover.
"Not over my dead body will they raise your taxes," Mr. Bush said to thunderous cheers at a town-hall meeting in this city with a large Hispanic population.
Mr. Daschle, who laid out his plan for economic recovery Friday after almost singlehandedly killing the Bush economic-stimulus plan in the Senate late last year, reacted angrily.
"No amount of hot rhetoric will get the economy back on track," the South Dakota Democrat said yesterday in a statement.
"Let me be clear, I proposed short-term tax cuts to create jobs and generate investment and long-term fiscal discipline, not tax increases. It is undeniable that the Republicans turned record surpluses into deficits in the space of just one year. It is time they explain to the American people what they intend to do about the hole they dug."
Scott McClellan, deputy White House press secretary, said that while no one has yet suggested the tax cut be canceled for coming years, Democrats are preparing to call for its repeal.
"There appears to be some effort by some Senate Democrats, and others, to lay the groundwork for a tax increase," he said. "That's the last thing we need at this time," the spokesman said aboard Air Force One.
Some of the already approved tax cuts, including most of the breaks aimed at ending the so-called marriage penalty, do not kick in until 2005. Still others such as the end of the estate tax and the gradual doubling of the child credit phase in over 10 years.
Mr. Bush said that repealing the rest of the tax cut is exactly the wrong step to take right now.
"If you think the economy is going to slow down, the best way to recover is to let people have their own money in their pockets to spend, not the government," he said.
The president's "over my dead body" statement was reminiscent of his father's "Read my lips. No new taxes" pledge at the 1988 Republican convention. The elder Mr. Bush reneged on that promise three years later; the following year he lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.
In his weekly radio address, broadcast earlier yesterday, Mr. Bush scolded the Senate leadership for refusing to act on the $101 billion-dollar stimulus package, which was passed overwhelmingly by the House.
"Some in the Senate seem to think we can afford to do nothing, that the economy will get better on its own, sooner or later," he said. "I say that if your job is in danger or you have a loved one out of work, you want that recovery sooner, not later."
The heated words were in stark contrast to other comments he made to about 4,000 people gathered in the Ontario Convention Center.
The president said he believes Washington needs a "new spirit," one in which the United States "responds in unison" and is not splintered by partisanship.
"What's more important, the country or my political party? Let me tell you something, the country is far more important," he said, drawing a standing ovation.
The president went on to praise Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, for his support and work for the education bill, which Mr. Bush will sign Tuesday.
Later, at a speech in Portland, Ore., he spelled out his stance more succinctly.
"I think it's time for Congress to focus on what's best for America and not political parties," he said, drawing a sustained standing ovation.
Before taking questions from the Ontario audience, Mr. Bush gave the gathering an update on the war in Afghanistan and the international battle against terrorism.
"Our war is a war against evil. This is clearly a case of good versus evil, and make no mistake about it good will prevail in this country," said Mr. Bush.
While some nations have been slow to come on board, the president said: "A lot of the fence-sitters or those who would like to be on the fence are beginning to realize it's in their best interests to be with us."
He also said the U.S. military is going "cave by cave" to find members of the al Qaeda terrorist group and its leader, Osama bin Laden.
The president said several times including at a stop at a Portland career center that faith sustained him through the early days after September 11.
"I'm a person who believes in God, and I believe in prayer," he told a group of youngsters.
In Ontario, Mr. Bush said he knows Americans are sending their prayers.
"I have felt the prayers of the American people for me and my family. I have. And I want to thank all of you who have prayed.
"People say, well, how do you know? I say, well, I can just feel it. I can't describe it very well, but I feel comforted by the prayer," said the president, who also said he was praying for Sgt. Nathan Chapman, killed Friday in Afghanistan.
A relaxed Mr. Bush, who delivered what amounted to a 30-minute speech in Ontario from a few small notecards, ran the gamut of emotions as he took questions from the audience.
He choked up a bit when a man said his son-in-law was aboard the recently returned USS Enterprise and all the crew "are honored to call you their commander-in-chief."
Just minutes later, the president drew a laugh when a woman asked how she would go about starting a design business and possibly someday provide the first lady with a garment.


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