Bush starts to push domestic agenda

President turns from war, highlights commitment to improving economy

April 17, 2003|By Jeff Zeleny | Jeff Zeleny,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ST. LOUIS - President Bush trumpeted the success of the military campaign in Iraq as he traveled here yesterday to begin tending to another campaign: promoting his domestic agenda in Congress and convincing Americans that he is focused on correcting the economy.

Standing on a factory floor, against a backdrop of two newly made Super Hornet fighter jets, the president launched the first in a series of postwar appearances outside Washington where he assumes the arduous task of selling his tax cut, which faces an uncertain fate in the Republican-controlled Congress because of the wilting economy and the widening budget deficit.

"Seeing all the good workers here reminds me of one of the big tasks we have in America-and that is to make sure anybody who's looking for a job can find one," Bush said, speaking at an F-18 production center where 250 layoffs were announced just last week. "Too many of our fellow Americans are looking for work, and that bothers me."

The brief stop inside a Boeing Co. plant near the St. Louis airport came one day after Bush abandoned his plan for a $726 billion tax cut and began a monthlong effort to persuade Congress to approve a scaled-back $550 billion break over 10 years. Before Memorial Day, the White House and lawmakers will attempt to reach a compromise on the Bush plan that focuses on eliminating income taxes on corporate dividends.

During the two-week congressional recess, the White House is aggressively pushing its plan to revive the languishing economy and to create more jobs. The Bush administration has dispatched 29 top officials to 61 events in 42 cities and 26 states to promote the president's economic plan.

Before he left Washington, the president signed a $79 billion spending bill to cover the cost of a war in Iraq. After a 90-minute stop in St. Louis, he traveled to his Texas ranch, where he is scheduled to take a five-day reprieve from what aides describe as the most intense month of his presidency.

During the height of the war, the Democratic criticism of Bush was muted. But yesterday as he logged the 10th visit of his term to Missouri, a state which he narrowly carried in the 2000 election, a fresh round of attacks awaited.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, scheduled a conference call with reporters just before the president began his speech. He criticized the Bush administration for its stewardship of the economy and said 95,000 jobs in the state had been lost since the president took office.

Jeff Zeleny writes for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper

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