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Bush Starts New Year With Focus on Economy - 2002-01-07

President Bush is focusing on the U.S. economy in these first days of 2002. He is battling Democrats in Congress over tax cuts and spending, issues that may determine this year's elections, and control of Congress.

The president says the war on terrorism remains his top priority for 2002, but he is also devoting much more time in this new year to his domestic agenda.

With the battle in Afghanistan slowing down, the political fight over the economy in Washington is getting more intense by the day. While there is still bi-partisanship on foreign affairs, the rhetoric turns sharp when the talk shifts to taxes, deficits, unemployment, and government spending.

And so it came as no surprise that on his first day back at the White House after a 12 day stay at his Texas ranch, President Bush called reporters into the Oval Office to talk about the economy. At his side was Alan Greenspan - head of the U.S. central bank.

It was a rare public appearance by Mr. Greenspan at the White House. And it underscored the importance the Bush administration is placing on economic issues in this election year.

Mr. Bush wasted no time getting to the point. "We are making good progress in winning the war in Afghanistan," the president said, "and we have got to make good progress helping people find work."

The president said he would push again for legislation to spur the economy. He said he wants to help create jobs through business incentives. And he said he sees a brighter future ahead if appropriate action is taken. "I am optimistic that 2002 is going to be a better year than 2001. And we will discuss ways here to figure how government can make that happen."

Democrats say they want to see an economic stimulus package, too. But the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate wants less reliance on tax cuts and they blocked consideration of a bill at the end of 2001.

President Bush says they actually want to raise taxes - a refrain that is sure to echo from his administration throughout this election year. "I hope that when Congress comes back, they will have listened to their constituents. And Congress will realize that America, like me, is tired of partisan bickering, that we ought to come together, we ought to unify around some sensible policy," he said.

Mr. Bush says he will include his own proposals to stimulate the economy in his federal budget for the next fiscal year. Democrats note this budget will not show a surplus and assert the president's 10 year tax cut plan is to blame.

President Bush made clear he is not worried that the deficit might turn into a campaign issue. "I said to the American people that this nation might have to run deficits in time of war, in times of a national emergency, or in times of a recession. And we are still in all three," he said.

The president is expected to spend a lot of time in the coming weeks selling his economic policies to the American public. Congress returns to Washington in late January for a legislative session expected to be dominated by political battles between the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican in the White House.