- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

President Bush resumes his bully-pulpit campaign for tax cuts this week with the war in Iraq won and his approval ratings climbing, but with the economy showing persistent signs of weakness.
Cabinet officials have begun an all-out, multilayered campaign to build grass-roots support for Mr. Bush's economic stimulus plan, which White House advisers say is critically important if the economy is to be turned around in time to help the president's 2004 re-election bid.
But with little more than eight months to go before the election year officially begins, Mr. Bush faces several obstacles, including a few Senate Republican defectors, noisy opposition from the Democrats and a changing view among White House advisers about the economy's underlying problems.
Earlier this year, senior administration officials believed the economy would show improvement once the uncertainty caused by the war had lifted. Now these officials, including Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, are saying that the economy's problems stem from deeper fundamentals.
Solving problems of insufficient investment capital and unused industrial capacity in a massive $11 trillion economy will take time, said a White House adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Moreover, the bitter budget skirmishes that cut Mr. Bush's $726 billion tax cut package by half in the Senate and by nearly $180 billion in the House suggest that it could take longer than envisioned to reach an agreement on a tax-cut package that the White House will accept.
"The election clock is ticking, and we need to move a bill to the president's desk as soon as possible," a senior administration official said on the condition of anonymity.
Republican leaders are planning to put the tax bills on a fast track soon after they return from the April congressional recess. "The House will act first on the tax bill, probably in the first or second week of next month, and bring it to the floor by the middle of May," said John Feehery, chief spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.
But Mr. Bush has several advantages as he presses his lobbying offensive. He enjoys a comfortable 72 percent job-approval rating, which is up slightly from previous polls, according to a Pew Research Center survey of nearly 1,000 Americans between April 10 and 16.
His party's public-approval ratings are also up. "Currently, 63 percent of Americans say they have a favorable view of the Republican Party; 57 percent say the same about the Democrats," the Pew survey reported Friday.
Victory in the military campaign against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime also has broadened the president's support on national security issues and marginalized his Democratic critics on the war. The Pew poll found that 60 percent of Democrats now say the war "was the right decision" while 31 percent say it was "the wrong one."
The end of the war, except for the long-term task of rebuilding Iraq, also means that Mr. Bush can devote most of his time to fighting for his tax cuts, say his supporters.
"He addressed the economy when he could, but he was obviously preoccupied by the war. Now that the war is behind us, the president can concentrate on building grass-roots support for his tax cuts," said Dirk Van Dongen, who heads the 1,000-member Tax Cut Coalition of business groups that is lobbying for Mr. Bush's stimulus plan.
"No one can charge up the troops like this president," Mr. Van Dongen said.
At the same time, there is growing consideration among Mr. Bush's senior advisers about making a nationally televised speech, perhaps before Congress, to address the war's outcome and the unfinished business of boosting economic growth and jobs.
At a White House briefing last week for a group of 80 business leaders, political adviser Karl Rove "was asked a very specific question: Might the president make a speech to Congress on the outcome of Iraq and use that opportunity to pivot over to the second big issue in front of him, growing the economy? Rove ducked it," said a prominent business lobbyist who attended the session.
There is speculation that Mr. Bush may seize the opportunity to make such a speech if U.S. forces in Iraq find a major cache of chemical or biological weapons or if Saddam is found dead or alive. "If I were him, I would look for that opportunity," the lobbyist said.
Asked about a major address, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said it was too early to say.

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