- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

CHICAGO, Jan. 7 (UPI) — President George W. Bush Tuesday formally presented his $670 billion economic stimulus plan based on tax cuts, investment incentives and aid to the unemployed to an appreciative crowd of more than 2,000 civic leaders and the well-heeled.

"It's a windy day out there, a good day for a windy speaker," Bush told members of the Economic Club of Chicago.

Bush presented an ambitious package — details of which had been leaked in recent days — that he said will encourage consumer spending, promote investment by individuals and businesses and put the unemployed back to work. He called for speeding up the tax cuts approved in 2001, eliminating the "death tax" permanently, ending double taxation on dividends and speeding reduction of the marriage penalty.

Perhaps the most innovative element of the plan is a $3,000 "re-employment" account for those who are likely to exhaust their unemployment benefits. The money, part of a 2-year, $3.6 billion program to be administered by the states, could be used for retraining, child care, transportation expenses, relocation costs or anything else involved in a job search. Those who manage to find work within 13 weeks would be allowed to keep whatever is left over from the stipend as a bonus.

"As we encourage long-term growth, we will not ignore the men and women struggling today," Bush pledged.

The speech was designed to counter claims by Democrats the Bush plan largely would benefit the rich. The president maintained his plan would provide tax relief to 92 million taxpayers, providing an average of $1,083 in reduced taxes this year.

"Our first challenge is to let Americans keep more of their money," Bush said, adding that if the cuts, which were approved in 2001, are good enough to be implemented in three years, "they're good enough today."

Bush said he wants to increase incentives for small businesses "to become bigger businesses." To that end, he said, write-offs for equipment purchases would be increased from the current $25,000 to $75,000 and would be indexed for inflation.

"We will not rest until every business has a chance to grow and every person who wants to find work can find a job," Bush said.

Absent from the package was any mention of economic aid to the states to help them deal with record budget shortfalls or the costs of implementing Homeland Security measures.

The speech was well received by the attendees, who gave the president three standing ovations — two before he even spoke.

"It was a good speech," said former Clinton Commerce Secretary William M. Daley, president of SBC Communications and the brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. "Now the games begin. Hopefully they'll come to a conclusion really quick."

James McClung, vice chairman of Charter Consulting, said he thought the president's speech hit all the right notes and spoke to all levels of the economy.

"I think he did a good job of countering the Democrats. He tried to use real numbers," McClung said.

Bush opened his speech by praising the mayor.

"We are from different political parties but we have a number of things in common," Bush noted. "We both married above ourselves. … We both have famous and influential brothers. Our dads spent a little time in politics. And we love our country more than our political parties. The thing I like the most about the mayor is he gets the job done for the people of Chicago."

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