- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

The White House is kicking off a stepped-up grass-roots campaign to promote its economic policies and the child tax-credit refund checks going out next week to 25 million families, administration officials said.

Less than six months before the start of the 2004 presidential campaign and with the polls showing President Bush receiving his lowest scores on the economy, senior administration officials said the country is still experiencing a “slow, lumbering economy” but one that is “poised for growth” by the end of the year.

With unemployment at 6.4 percent and Democrats relentlessly pounding Mr. Bush on the economy’s persistent weakness, the president and three of his Cabinet officials will be hitting the road again in the coming days and weeks to meet and talk with manufacturers, small businesses and workers in key electoral states in the industrial Midwest and elsewhere.

“We are in a period of slow growth. We are growing in the range of 1.5 percent to 2 percent. We want to accelerate that. We want to double that,” said Rob Nichols, chief spokesman for U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow.

Mr. Bush said yesterday that tax cuts would provide the kind of boost to the sluggish economy that would lead to job creation.

“Now that Americans can keep more of what they earn, we can expect to see rising demand for goods and services. And as demand increases, companies will need more workers to meet it,” Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan testified before Congress last week that the economy is on the verge of faster growth, as a report showed retail spending grew last month by 0.5 percent.

But he said he did not believe that tax cuts are the right way to provide a short-term stimulus to the economy.

Many economists believe that it takes Congress so long to pass tax cuts that they normally have an effect only after the economy has begun to improve. Mr. Greenspan told the Senate Banking Committee that it had been “fortuitous” that the large tax cuts turned out to have passed Congress in time to help the economy.

Democrats seized on Mr. Greenspan’s remarks to bolster their arguments that the government’s soaring deficits, which they blame on the administration’s tax cuts, will be harmful to the economy.

To counter the Democratic attacks on the administration’s economic policies, Mr. Bush is planning nearly a dozen or more speaking events on the economy during the next two weeks to talk up his tax cuts and give their economic effect more visibility.

“Obviously, this is a time to highlight the things that are going into effect, the child tax-credit refund, the accelerated income tax-rate reductions that have been implemented and the business expensing to spur expansion and new equipment purchases,” a White House official said.

At the same time, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao and Mr. Snow are preparing for a six-city bus tour of Wisconsin and Minnesota, two key electoral states that Mr. Bush did not carry in 2000, to talk with small-business owners, manufacturers and workers in town-hall-style meetings.

Also this month, a phalanx of Commerce Department officials, led by Mr. Evans, has been holding round-table discussions with manufacturers and employees in key industrial centers around the country. That will continue into September.

Administration officials say they are more optimistic about the economy turning around this year, saying the combined tax cuts taking effect this summer will spur business expansion, consumer spending, capital investment and job creation.

“The economy is really poised for a growth spurt. You have $13 billion in the child tax-credit checks, averaging $400, that will begin going out next week to 25 million taxpayers. The new, lower-income tax-withholding tables have been put into effect,” Mr. Nichols said.

He also pointed to the new accelerated tax breaks to encourage businesses to invest in new equipment and the “bull rally on Wall Street, a result of the dividends-tax cuts, that is buoying people’s retirement accounts.”

“This is the best quarter in the stock market in four years. That’s significant, and many Wall Street analysts credit the jobs-and-growth plan. We have a lot of positive signs, but we don’t yet have the growth we’re looking for,” Mr. Nichols said.

“Growth in the first half of this year ranged from 1 to 2 percent. We estimate growth around 3 percent by end of year and rising to mid-3s to 4 percent next year.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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