- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

President Bush yesterday expressed satisfaction with his economic team and program amid a series of reports showing recent improvement in the economy.
Several top retailers reported better than expected chain-store sales last month, while the government reported a robust 4 percent increase in productivity and a decline in jobless claims.
"Many of the fundamental economic indicators are good," Mr. Bush said at his first post-election news conference, taking note of favorable trends that analysts said reassured voters and made the economy less of an issue in the elections than many expected.
"Interest rates are low, so Americans can buy more homes. Inflation's low, so paychecks go further in buying groceries and gas. Productivity of our workers is high," the president said. "The economy has come out of a recession and is growing, but I'm not satisfied because I know we can do better."
Quashing speculation that he might order a housecleaning and replace top economic advisers after the elections, Mr. Bush lauded his staff for performing well during difficult economic times and putting together last year's tax cuts, which many analysts credit with helping to pull the economy out of recession.
Mr. Bush even defended departing Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt for being a tough enforcer of the securities laws despite his credibility problems. Many pundits were predicting Mr. Pitt, who announced his resignation Tuesday, would be only the first to go.
Mr. Bush expressed support for William Webster, Mr. Pitt's choice to head the new accounting board created by Congress, calling him a "decent, honorable public servant."
He said he was awaiting the outcome of an internal SEC investigation on whether Mr. Webster knew of accounting problems at U.S. Technologies, where he served as chairman of the audit committee last year.
Questions about Mr. Webster's connection with Washington-based U.S. Technologies, and Mr. Pitt's failure to disclose the matter to the White House and other SEC members, are what led to the chairman's resignation.
Shortly after the president spoke, BDO Seidman, U.S. Technologies' former auditor, released documents showing it told Mr. Webster about various problems last year before the former FBI and CIA director joined in firing the accounting firm.
Throughout the news conference, Mr. Bush showed his determination to stick by his program, despite a flagging economy that prompted the Federal Reserve on Wednesday to cut interest rates for the first time this year.
"I'm not changing my political philosophy," the president said. "I'm the same guy after the election I was prior to the election."
A report from the Labor Department yesterday showed a downtick in new claims for unemployment insurance. But the average weekly level of claims this year, at a little over 400,000, is about the same as it was during the recession last year.
Mr. Bush said his second-highest priority would be to enact legislation he has proposed to spur growth and generate jobs, listing terrorism insurance and appropriations bills that were victims of gridlock as the first that should receive attention in the lame-duck Congress.
"This will spur construction and create thousands of good hard-hat jobs that are currently on hold because projects without insurance cannot be built," he said.
Next year, he said he will push for legislation to develop the nation's energy resources and accelerate and extend last year's tax cuts to further promote growth. He also hinted at further tax reforms and reductions to aid the economy.
"If people are really interested in job creation, they ought to join me in my call to make the tax cuts permanent," he said. "It's an important part of sending a signal that there is certainty in the tax code, that all the benefits from tax relief don't go away after 10 years."
Many small-business owners, who create most of the jobs in the United States, could see their high estate-tax and income-tax rates restored at the end of the decade without further legislation.
Congress will have to exercise "fiscal discipline" on domestic programs while providing higher funding for defense and homeland security, Mr. Bush said. "At a time when we're at war and a time when we need to strengthen our economy, Congress must be wise with the people's money, fund the nation's priorities and control wasteful spending."
Mr. Bush said he believes his mandate coming out of Tuesday's elections is to continue to work with congressional leaders from both parties to craft solutions to the nation's problems.
He appeared to put aside calls from some conservatives for immediate action on Social Security reform, but said enactment of a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare patients would be a top priority.

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