Bush Looks for Support on Tax Cuts

Monday, February 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush asked Americans on Monday to back his push in Congress for massive tax cuts that he wants to make retroactive to Jan. 1. ``Everybody who pays taxes will get some relief,'' the president promised.

After wooing lawmakers for two weeks, Bush opened a tightly scripted public-relations campaign for his $1.6 trillion, 10-year plan to lower income tax rates across the board. He invited to a White House press appearance families representing three of the four, lower tax brackets that would be created under the plan he sends to Congress this week.

``No American should pay more than a third of his income to the federal government,'' said Bush, standing before a jumbo check payable to ``U.S. Taxpayer'' in the amount of $1,600 — the average tax cut for a family of four under his plan, according to White House estimates.

Bush would reduce the five tax brackets under current law — 15 percent, 28 percent, 31 percent, 36 percent and 39.6 percent — to 10 percent, 15 percent, 25 percent and 33 percent.

In a back-and-forth with reporters in the White House diplomatic room, Bush addressed Democratic criticism that the wealthiest Americans in those top two brackets would reap the biggest benefits:

``I've heard all the talk about class warfare and this only benefiting the rich. I think when people take a good hard look at the rate reduction and who benefits and the fact that our plan ... eases inequities in the tax code and that the bottom end of the economic ladder receives the biggest percentage cuts, people will come to realize it — I think it's important to cut all tax rates.''

He warned those lawmakers who might want to ``load up'' his tax legislation with their own giveaways that his is ``the right-sized plan. It is the right approach and I'm going to defend it mightily.''

Bush said he would ask that the cuts be made retroactive to Jan. 1 in order ``to expedite money to the pockets of the American people.''

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer acknowledged that absent among the everyday Americans invited to Bush's ceremony on Monday was someone in the highest income bracket who would see their top rate slashed from 39.6 percent to 33 percent.

Asked about the conspicuous omission, Bush, the former Texas governor, laughed and said he was representing that group himself. ``I got a little pay raise coming to Washington from Austin. I'll be in the top bracket.''

Later Monday, Bush scheduled a private lunch with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, aides said. Greenspan gave Bush's tax cut proposal a boost last month when he said surplus estimates had grown so large that he believed there was enough money to both pay down the national debt and provide tax relief.

Bush also was attending the swearing-in of Commerce Secretary Don Evans, and dining Monday night with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

On Tuesday, Bush is to visit a Washington-area small business, where he will argue that tax cuts would spur economic growth.

The following day, he'll hold a reunion of the ``tax families'' he held up during his campaign as examples of who would gain from the plan. The theme of the day: The proposal would help large numbers of low-income Americans move into the middle class.

Climaxing the blitz, Bush on Thursday sends the broad outlines of his tax plan to Congress.

From the day he took office, the Republican president has worked aggressively to win over lawmakers who will determine the destiny of his agenda.

In an extraordinary overture, he traveled Sunday to a resort in western Pennsylvania to meet with Democratic House members holding a strategy retreat.

Bush outlined his proposals on taxes, Medicare and Social Security reform and schools, then fielded questions and visited with the Democrats.

He told the Democrats he would push for the agenda he campaigned on, yet emphasized his call for a new tone to the political debate in Washington, aides to Bush and the lawmakers said.

Asked as he left whether he thought he had won over any converts, Bush said he wasn't sure.

``I think they listened,'' he said. ``I have no idea until the votes come. They were very cordial. These are professionals who want to serve their nation.''

Bush says the tax cut is necessary to stave off a recession, and many Democrats agree, although some believe a smaller cut of less than $1 trillion over 10 years is in order.

The two camps drew stark battle lines over the weekend, when Bush warned of ``troubling'' economic signs as he pitched the tax-cut plan and Democrats responded that the proposal would disproportionately help the wealthy. The Democrats also argued that Bush's tax cut and increased spending on improving schools, the military and Medicare would bring new deficits.

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota contended in a radio address Saturday that Bush's tax-cut plan ``shortchanges working families.'' His comments came a day after Bush made a personal pitch to Democratic senators at their gathering on Capitol Hill.