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Bush Hails Tax Bill During Capitol Hill Visit - 2003-05-22

President Bush went to Capitol Hill Thursday to thank congressional leaders for legislation to cut U.S. taxes and spend more money to stop AIDS in Africa.

President Bush claimed victory in the congressional struggle over tax cuts even though the deal cuts taxes by less than half of what he requested.

The president's original plan for $726 billion in tax cuts was rejected as too high by members of both political parties. He failed to line up support for a slightly smaller plan while criticizing a competing $350 billion package as, "itty bitty."

Mr. Bush is now set to sign an even smaller plan approved only after a legislative bargaining session called by Vice President Dick Cheney. Despite the difficulties behind the deal, Mr. Bush Thursday praised the plan as giving more people more money to spend to help the economy.

"The more money somebody has, it means somebody is more likely to demand a good or a service, which means somebody will produce a good or a service, which means somebody is likely to find work," the president said. " This bill that I am going to sign is good for American workers, it is good for American families, it is good for American investors, and it is good for American entrepreneurs and small business owners."

Democrats say the tax cuts unfairly favor the rich by reducing taxes on corporate dividends.

More important for the White House than the final amount of the tax cut is getting some economic package through Congress before the summer recess. When the president signs the bill next week, most taxpayers should see some change in their tax withholding pretty quickly. Parents will get checks in the mail reflecting an increase in the child tax credit.

That is all meant to provide some stimulus for the economy and calm voters' financial concerns by summer's end when campaigning for next year's presidential election heats up.

The White House hopes to keep voters focused on the president's popular role as Commander-in-Chief in the fight against terrorism. Nine Democratic challengers hope to unseat Mr. Bush by focusing on a sluggish economy.

The president Thursday also thanked lawmakers for approving his $15 billion request to increase funding to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.

"We've got an obligation to help those who suffer," Mr. Bush said. " America is a very strong country. We are also a compassionate country. And I thank the members of the House and the Senate for passing an AIDS bill that will help the people of Africa."

Mr. Bush travels to Europe next week where he is expected to urge leaders there to increase their own spending on AIDS in the developing world. He will be trying to dampen European criticism of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq by focusing on programs to fight AIDS, hunger, and poverty which he says is "the moral purpose of American influence."