DES MOINES, Iowa — President Bush yesterday turned his focus to the economy, traveling to this battleground state to sign his fourth tax-relief package in four years.
Moving the spotlight off of Iraq, Mr. Bush defended his domestic agenda, accusing Democrats of falsely saying he would bankrupt Social Security and labeling Sen. John Kerry’s health care proposal “Hillary Care.”
Signing the tax-relief bill, passed last month by Congress, will affect nearly 95 million Americans. The new law extends three middle-class tax breaks for five years. They had been set to begin expiring on Jan. 1. The $146 billion family-tax package also revives other tax incentives for businesses.
“This legislation will have good effects throughout the economy,” Mr. Bush told the crowd in the gymnasium of the South Suburban YMCA.
“The tax relief we passed in 2001 has helped our economy overcome a lot of challenges — a stock-market decline, a recession, terrorist attacks and war. By extending key portions of that tax relief, we will leave close to $50 billion next year in the hands of the people who earned it. And that money will help keep the economy moving forward and result in even more new jobs for American workers,” he said.
The legislation that Mr. Bush signed into law yesterday will:
Keep the per-child tax credit at $1,000 for five years.
Extend the broader 10 percent tax bracket for six years, cutting taxes for virtually all taxpayers.
Retain for four years a provision giving married couples relief from the “marriage penalty.”
With the extended cuts, a family of four with an income of $40,000 will save $913 on their taxes next year.
“That would have been a burden for hard-working families across America. And it would have been a setback for our economy,” he said to applause.
Mr. Kerry, who supports the tax-cut extensions that the president signed yesterday, has proposed rolling back the tax cuts for families making more than $200,000 and using the savings to make health care and education more affordable.
“Now that the middle-class tax cuts that John Kerry supported so vigorously in the Iowa caucuses are being extended, the lines are clear: Bush wants more tax breaks for the wealthy, Kerry wants to cut taxes and health costs for middle-class families,” said Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democrat.
Mr. Bush said in a later speech yesterday in Clive, Iowa, that Mr. Kerry has proposed $2.2 trillion in new programs and that he will fund his priorities by “taxing the rich.” But the president said Mr. Kerry’s tax plan would generate just $600 billion and wouldn’t work anyway.
“He says, ‘Oh, I’m just going to tax the rich.’ Well, the rich hire lawyers and accountants for a reason — that’s to stick you with the tab. But we’re not going to let him tax you, we’re going to carry Iowa and the country in November,” Mr. Bush said to cheers.
“You may have noticed, he changes positions quite frequently. But not on taxes. During his 20 years in the Senate, he’s voted to raise your taxes 98 times. Now, all of a sudden, he’s saying, well, he’s for a middle-class tax relief. Except, he voted against raising the child credit. He voted against reducing the marriage penalty. He voted against creating a 10 percent bracket, which helps low-income Americans,” Mr. Bush said.
In addition, the Bush campaign put out a statement yesterday that only 20.5 million, or 15.7 percent, of the nation’s 130.7 million tax filers would benefit from Mr. Kerry’s tax cuts and 82 percent of taxpayers would get no tax relief.
Mr. Bush decried Mr. Kerry’s plan on health care, which Kenneth Thorpe, deputy assistant secretary of health and human services under President Clinton, said will cost $972 billion over 10 years.
“My opponent believes that the federal government ought to be making your decisions,” Mr. Bush said to boos from the audience. “He’s got a system that’s creeping toward ‘Hillary Care.’”
The reference was to the former first lady’s health care plan that eventually was abandoned in her husband’s first term.
On charges in 2000 that if elected, he would take away Social Security checks, Mr. Bush said, “That’s the same old stale political rhetoric.”
Yesterday was Mr. Bush’s 17th presidential trip to Iowa. In 2000, he lost Polk County by 9,788 votes and lost the state by 4,144 votes, 0.3 percent of the vote. Several polls, all conducted before the first presidential debate last week, show Mr. Bush up from three to five points.