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Bush Discusses Economy, Education in Pennsylvania - 2004-02-12

President Bush is in Pennsylvania where he met with high school students to talk about the economy and education. Pennsylvania is a key battleground state in this year's election.

The president's trip to the state capital was his 25th visit to Pennsylvania since he took office. Mr. Bush narrowly lost the state in 2000, and has made winning there a major goal of this year's campaign.

Pennsylvania's population makes it one of the top six states in the race to win the presidency.

Unemployment is one of the state's biggest political issues, as 85,000 jobs there have been lost since Mr. Bush came to office. The president says his record tax cuts are helping improve the economy and create more jobs.

Despite recession, terrorist attacks, corporate scandals and war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Bush told students in Pennsylvania that the U.S. economy is growing.

"See, the numbers are good. But I do not worry about numbers. I worry about people," he said. "There are still some people looking for work because of the recession. There are people looking for work because jobs have gone oversees. And we need to act in this country."

In Pennsylvania, the non-partisan Keystone Research Center says job creation has fallen more than 57,000 jobs short of Bush administration projections. The research center says new jobs that have been created in Pennsylvania pay, on average, 23 percent less than the jobs they have replaced.

The newest government economic figures show national unemployment claims rising and retail sales in January falling. Economists had predicted both indicators would rise as part of an expanding economy.

President Bush repeated his call for Congress to pass an economic plan that includes more free-trade agreements, legal reforms, lower health care costs and permanent tax cuts.

The economy and the war in Iraq are expected to be the biggest issues in this year's presidential election. As that campaign heats up, the White House is continuing to refute Democratic accusations about the president's military service during the Vietnam War.

Mr. Bush served in the National Guard, which is a voluntary, usually part-time state militia. Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe has charged that Mr. Bush failed to show up for Guard duty in the state of Alabama between May of 1972 and May of 1973.

The White House this week released payroll records showing that Mr. Bush was paid for duty during that time, and dental records showing that he was examined at an Air National Guard base in January of 1973.

Speaking aboard Air Force One on the way to Pennsylvania, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the dental records are further proof that President Bush fulfilled his guard duties.

The issue is particularly attractive for Democrats, as the front-runner for the party's nomination to challenge Mr. Bush is Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who is a decorated Vietnam veteran.

In Pennsylvania, Senator Kerry would present another challenge to the Bush campaign, as the Senator's wife is well-known as the head one of the state's leading philanthropic trusts, which contributes money to schools, hospitals and cultural groups.