- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

PHOENIX — President Bush traveled to Ohio and the Southwest yesterday to drum up support for his proposal to spend an additional $550 million this year on education and persuade those skeptical of his plan to award legal status to millions of illegal aliens to “recognize realities.”

At his afternoon stop at Mesa Community College, Mr. Bush launched into a defense of his proposal to give the estimated 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens in the United States “temporary worker cards” that would grant legal status for at least three years.

Mr. Bush said doing so would be “a humane way to approach the citizens of the world,” because it would end the dangerous and exploitative practice of smuggling aliens over the Mexican border to Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico.

“I think we ought to let the sun shine in and recognize realities,” Mr. Bush said.

Many conservatives oppose the Bush plan, saying it amounts to an amnesty that would reward foreign lawbreakers and encourage even more illegal immigration — charges the president denied.

“This doesn’t mean there is automatic citizenship. I’m against amnesty,” Mr. Bush said, adding that he would also beef up border patrols. “[Amnesty] would tell those who are waiting in line in a legal way that legality doesn’t matter any more.”

The goal, he said, is to “match a willing worker with a willing employer” for jobs that “Americans don’t want.”

The crowd of Arizona Republicans gave Mr. Bush’s immigration remarks a lukewarm reception compared with their cheers for his comments about job training and winning the war on terrorism.

Recent polls show most Americans don’t support the president’s plan, but both the White House and the Bush-Cheney campaign insist that public opinion will come around when the president further explains his proposal.

Earlier yesterday in Toledo, Ohio, Mr. Bush expanded on the education proposals he outlined in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, asking Congress for $550 million in new spending this year, most of it concentrated on improving community colleges.

Mr. Bush acknowledged that local and state governments handle most education spending, but said “the federal government can help,” especially in areas that are dependent on a shrinking manufacturing industry.

“I fully recognize that in Ohio there are still troubled times,” Mr. Bush said. “The manufacturing sector here is sluggish at best, and therefore, people are looking for work.”

The president wants to spend $250 million to help community colleges adjust their curriculum to meet a changing job market.

“Some people are being left behind because of their skill sets,” Mr. Bush said, “and the work force needs to be constantly trained to keep up with technological advances.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that “like everyone else,” Mr. Bush knows “that we’re in an election year.” He maintained the president was not engaged in politics, but “remains focused on the people’s business.”

Mr. Bush yesterday touched on themes certain to surface on the campaign trail — his decision to go to war in Iraq and his desire to reauthorize the Patriot Act to fight terrorism.

“These are tools that we have been using for years against embezzlers,” Mr. Bush said, attempting to rebut complaints of many Democrats and civil libertarians that the Patriot Act violates civil rights. “It seems that a law that applies to embezzlers should apply to terrorists.”

The Patriot Act would expire next year if not reauthorized by Congress.

A senior administration official said “nearly all” of the $550 million education plan is new spending, and he said Mr. Bush’s budget for fiscal year 2005 will include net increases for the departments of Education and Labor.

Conservatives on Capitol Hill and around the country have complained about the increases in domestic spending during Mr. Bush’s administration that exceed those of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton.

Rep. Sue Myrick, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Republican Study Committee, urged the president yesterday to show spending restraint.

“Conservatives believe that the entire cost of new initiatives ought to be offset with other reductions in spending,” Mrs. Myrick said.

A senior White House spokesman said yesterday that the $550 million job-training plan was not offset by spending cuts.

“I’m not going to sit here and say that there won’t be any cuts or terminations in programs in the Department of Education or the Department of Labor, but these are new programs — new money for new programs,” the official said. “And budgets are increasing.”

Before a speech today in Roswell, N.M., Mr. Bush will speak by telephone to participants in the annual March for Life in Washington.

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