- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (UPI) — Economic growth, strengthening of Medicare and fiscal restraint are key administration priorities in the year ahead and will be emphasized in next week's State of the Union address, President George W. Bush said Saturday.

In the current session of Congress, "we must work to make our nation safer, more prosperous and compassionate" while meeting the many great challenges facing the United States with "courage and steady purpose."

Bush, speaking in his weekly radio address, said passage of his 10-year, $674 billion growth proposal would benefit all citizens as well as small businesses, which create the majority of jobs in the country.

The plan features accelerated income tax cuts, accelerated implementation of marriage penalty relief and child credits and a provision that would raise the deduction level for business investment in new machinery and equipment from the current $25,000 to $75,000, with the increase pegged to inflation after the first year.

Double taxation of stock dividends should also be scrapped, he said.

And to help unemployed workers, he plans to ask Congress to approve special unemployment accounts, which would provide about $3,000 to help obtain new employment by paying for new job skills training, child care while looking for work and moving expenses. If the unemployed worker finds new employment within the 13-week unemployment benefit period, the unspent amount in the special fund would be theirs to keep.

"Strengthening and improving Medicare is also priority for my administration in the coming year," Bush said. "I will urge Congress to join me in keeping our commitment to America's seniors by working to modernize Medicare, and include a prescription drug benefit to help seniors who are squeezed by rising drug costs."

Democrats on Capitol Hill have blasted Bush's growth plan. The package will do nothing to stimulate a sluggish economy, critics have said, and tax cuts were weighted to benefit wealthier taxpayers.

Critics also fear Bush's tax-cut proposal will deepen the federal deficit in years to come.

Not specifically mentioned by Bush Saturday was the war on terrorism and what appears to be impending war against Iraq, but both were expected to feature prominently when the president stands before a joint session of Congress and the American people on Tuesday evening.

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