Bush stop in Arundel focuses on economy

Visit today will tout stimulus package

War On Terrorism

Anthrax Scare

October 24, 2001|By Karen Hosler and David L. Greene | Karen Hosler and David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush will use a Baltimore-area packaging company as his stage today, when he will press Congress to breathe life into the stagnant American economy.

Action on much of the legislation proposed in response to the Sept. 11 attacks has slowed to a crawl. After quick action on spending for the affected cities, the military and the airline industry, a counter-terrorism measure was stalled for weeks and a bill to tighten airline security is languishing.

Bush will use the visit to Dixie Printing and Packaging Corp. in Glen Burnie to promote an economic stimulus package that awaits final action. Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on the measure, which has yet to pass either house.

Efforts to reach a consensus were further delayed by an anthrax scare, which led the House to shut down last week and has kept most office buildings on Capitol Hill closed.

This afternoon, the Republican-led House of Representatives is expected to approve a $100 billion tax cut, which even the White House has said is too large. The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to approve a competing proposal that Bush finds objectionable because it includes what the president considers too much new spending.

With every interest group in Washington hoping to get a piece of the tax-and-spending action, the stimulus package poses a legislative challenge for a president burdened with a supremely challenging international campaign against terrorism.

"This is the big one - where philosophy and bipartisanship collide," said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican. "Everybody's got a different idea about what makes good economic policy."

There are "lots of people who just want to add on their own pet projects," Feehery said.

A few weeks ago, when leaders of both parties acted almost in unison, they appeared headed toward a consensus with the administration on a plan to give the economy a needed jolt. Included in the $60 billion to $75 billion package were tax cuts, new public works spending and increased jobless benefits for laid-off workers.

"Then all of a sudden, it blew up," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee. "The consensus has evaporated on economic issues."

Senate Democrats are soliciting requests for new spending projects that could be started quickly from a group of big-city mayors that includes Baltimore's Martin O'Malley.

Bush has said he does not want to approve additional public-works spending this year, but the bargaining might prove difficult, especially now that Congress does not feel constrained by budget limits in a national emergency.

"My concern is that in order to get a deal, everybody will get what they want, and the bill will just be huge," Cardin said.

Last week, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill described the $100 billion tax cut passed by Republicans on the House committee as partly "show business." He later backpedaled, after his remarks provoked outrage among House Republicans, who apparently were playing to their conservative base in approving a much larger package than the administration wanted.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, said he expects Bush to celebrate House passage of the Republican plan when he visits Glen Burnie today.

As a small, family-owned business, Dixie Printing would stand to benefit from provisions that Bush is calling for, such as faster tax write-offs for the purchase of new equipment, administration aides said. The company's president, A. Newth Morris III, is active in local Republican politics.

The brief visit to Anne Arundel County appears to closely resemble stops the president made around the country this year to promote his $1.35 trillion tax cut, which was approved by Congress.

Since Sept. 11, however, he has curtailed out-of-town travel. Besides his visit last week to Shanghai, he has traveled to California, New York, Chicago and Emmitsburg, Md. Most of his weekends have been spent at the Camp David retreat north of Frederick.

Bush has devoted most of his energy to overseeing the U.S. military response to last month's terrorist attacks. But stimulating an economy that has likely slipped into recession has become his overwhelming domestic priority.

"For anyone who is unemployed, it's the biggest game in town," said Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary.

Using Glen Burnie as a backdrop, Fleischer added, helps Bush make the point that his stimulus plan is "about real people and real livelihoods."

During the eight years that President Bill Clinton was in office, the White House often chose sites in next-door Maryland for much the same reason. But Bush, whose travels before Sept. 11 almost always had a clear political dimension, has spent almost no time in the heavily Democratic state.

Aides said that even amid a war overseas and bioterror fears at home, Bush wants to show Americans that it is safe to return to their normal routines.

Doing his part to help energize the local economy in Washington, which has suffered in the aftermath of the attacks, the president ate out last night. He dined at pricey Jeffrey's at the Watergate, a branch of one of his favorite Austin restaurants, which followed him to town.

Tomorrow evening, he is expected to return to the political fund-raising trail, at a $1,000-a-plate dinner here to benefit Republican candidates for governor.

Despite the effort to project a business-as-usual image, almost everything about Bush's presidency has changed.

His last visit to Baltimore, barely three months ago, was designed to promote Medicare reform. That initiative, like others on his pre-Sept. 11 agenda, has been knocked off the table for the foreseeable future.

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