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Bush Faces Uphill Battle in Selling Tax Cut - 2003-04-28


Now that the combat phase of the war in Iraq is over, Americans are once again focusing on the state of the U.S. economy. President Bush is pushing a massive tax cut, but despite his current high public approval rating, he is having a difficult time winning congressional backing. President Bush wants Americans to know he is protecting the country from threats abroad and economic uncertainty at home.

"I will continue to promote an international agenda of peace and freedom and I will continue doing what I have been doing, which is working on our economy," he said.

But the president's public campaigning for his economic package was on hold while American troops were involved in active combat in Iraq. Now, he is once again traveling the country in support of the tax plan.

He knows that Democrats who backed U.S. forces in Iraq are prepared to use the economy as a weapon in next year's presidential campaign. Pointing to figures showing sluggish economic growth, they argue the Bush administration's domestic policies have failed.

The White House contends the cost of fighting terrorism and the war in Iraq has combined with the lingering effects of the last recession to create a weak economy. But many Democrats, including some with presidential ambitions, say a round of tax cuts approved by Congress shortly after Mr. Bush took office are to blame.

Among them is Florida Senator Bob Graham, who appeared on ABC television's This Week.

"I think this administration has been reckless and irresponsible in handling our domestic economic affairs," he said. "And the first place to start the recovery process is to not dig the hole any deeper."

But the president maintains those initial tax cuts had a positive impact, and another massive round is necessary to give the economy the boost it needs. That argument has become the centerpiece of his domestic policy, much to the delight of his conservative supporters in Congress.

But they have not been able to line up enough votes to pass the $726 billion package initially proposed by the president. The House is expected to back about $550 billion in tax cuts, which the president has indicated would be an acceptable compromise. But the figure likely to clear the Senate could be much lower, perhaps as low as $350 billion.

Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He told the Fox News Sunday television program there is not much room for maneuvering in the 100-member Senate.

"We have got a divided government and we have to operate within the realities of a Senate that is divided 51-49," said Mr. Grassley.

The problem for the White House is that while Republicans control the Senate, conservatives do not. There are party moderates who say they cannot in good conscience support a massive tax cut. Among them is Senator George Voinovich of Ohio. His state provided the backdrop when the president relaunched his campaign for passage of the tax package.

"Some in Congress say the plan is too big," Mr. Bush. "Well, it seems to me they might have some explaining to do. If they agree that tax relief creates jobs, why are they for a little-bitty tax relief package."

But Senator Voinovich was not swayed. Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press he said the White House knows he is a self-described "deficit hawk."

"I'm just as concerned about job creation as the president is or someone else," he said. "But it has got to be put in the context of the fact that things have changed since we had the surplus in 2001 when we reduced taxes $1.3 trillion.

The tax package will be a matter of intense discussion this week in Washington. Congress returns from a holiday recess, and both sides are expected to map strategy for the coming weeks of the legislative session.

At the same time, the president's speechwriters are busy drafting new appeals for tax relief to be delivered to audiences around the country in an effort to pressure the legislature.

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