Thursday, February 19, 2004

President Bush yesterday touted his economic record, saying his tax cuts spurred the ongoing economic recovery that is overcoming corporate scandals and the psychological setbacks of the September 11 attacks.

“We acted here in Washington. I led,” Mr. Bush told a friendly audience at an auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House compound.

“I convinced Congress to cut the taxes on the people, because I felt like, during this time of uncertainty and economic slowdown, if people had more of their own money … the economy gets moving [and] somebody is more likely to find work. And that’s what happened.”

Mr. Bush was unapologetic about cutting taxes “on everybody who pays” them and said he will seek to make the cuts permanent, a response to Democrats’ repeated complaints that the cuts really benefited only the wealthy and should be repealed.

“When you hear, ‘We’re going to repeal the Bush tax cuts,’ that means tax increases,” Mr. Bush said, sharpening a line that he is likely to use frequently on the campaign trail. “There’s a philosophical difference here: Who would you rather spending your money — you or the federal government? And that’s the debate I look forward to taking across the country.”

Congressional Democrats responded to the president’s speech by sending him a letter complaining about predictions that the economy would produce 2.6 million jobs before the November election and blaming the tax cuts for ballooning the annual federal budget deficit to more than $500 billion.

The White House this week slightly backed off the jobs prediction after January job-growth numbers of 119,000, which were half of what was necessary to keep pace.

“If you no longer believe your economic program will create 2.6 million additional jobs, Americans would like to know, how many will it create?” the letter said. “If you do not support the jobs prediction in your economic report, does this mean you also do not support your previous assertion that your policies will cut the deficit in half in five years?

“American workers have a right to know what they can expect over the next year and what your plan is for jump-starting the economy,” it said.

The Labor Department announced yesterday that the number of people signing up for unemployment benefits fell much more than expected in the past week, suggesting that the long-awaited job-creation surge might be under way.

Jobless claims dropped 24,000 to 344,000 in the week that ended Saturday, more than double the number expected by most Wall Street investors. Another report released yesterday showed that manufacturing in the Mid-Atlantic region also expanded briskly this month.

Mr. Bush said his income-tax cuts were especially helpful to those who run small businesses, many of whom pay their taxes at the personal-income level.

He also praised the increase in business-capital deductibility from $25,000 a year to $100,000 a year, pointing to a small-business owner onstage with him who used the deductible to invest in equipment.

“Most new jobs are created by small businesses in America,” Mr. Bush said. “And if you’re interested in job creation, why not focus on the job creators?”

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