Bush, Democrats take to radio to make cases for tax plans
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Telling taxpayers the "surplus is your money," President Bush used his weekly radio address to press once again for his $1.6 trillion dollar plan, while Democrats repeated their concerns that the federal budget surpluses are just" projections, not money in the bank."
Bush also sent his prayers to the people of Washington state and said his administration was providing assistance, following Wednesday's earthquake which he said "affected countless lives and caused billion dollars of damage."
On the budget, Bush said he crafted the federal government's spending plan the same way Americans families craft their household budget. The president said he decided he would take care of "priorities" such as education, Social Security and Medicare, then focus on paying down the debt by $2 trillion over the next decade, and setting up a contingency fund of $1 trillion for emergency needs or additional spending.
"We still have money left over," said the president, and he would use the remaining surplus for "broad, far tax relief."
"A surplus, after all, is an over-charge of American taxpayers," he said. "And on your behalf, I am asking for a refund."
In the weekly Democratic radio response, Rep. John Spratt, D-South Carolina, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, cautioned against relying on a projected $5.6 trillion dollar surplus.
"If we bet the budget on these 10-year projections and they don't pan out, we can put the budget right back in the red again," Spratt said.
The White House argues that the surplus projections are conservative estimates, and the surplus will grow even more than currently expected over the next 10 years.
Bush plans to hit the road again this week to build support for his tax cut plan. He will be in Chicago Tuesday, and then travel to North Dakota, South Dakota and Louisiana, the homes of six Democratic senators, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota.
The goal of these trips, aides say, is to try to increase the public pressure on some moderate and conservative Democrats to vote for the president's ideas.
Bush, according to a senior administration official, plans to keep making the case about how his plan affects people's lives, calling it a "people's tax relief plan."
The president, in his radio address, said his plan gives the "largest percentage reductions to working families who need the most help," and would mean savings of $1,600 for a typical family of four.
"Our federal budget must be good for the family budget," he said. "And now, I hope you'll send a message in favor of tax relief to your congressman or your senator. After all, the surplus is your money."
While the Democrats have been arguing the president's plan favors the rich, Spratt did not focus on that line of attack in his address.
Instead, Spratt charged that the president's plan leaves "little room" for programs such as education and defense, and leaves "nothing" to deal with Social Security and Medicare.
"We may be sitting on an island of surpluses, but we are surrounded by a sea of debt, and that includes trillions for benefits under Social Security and Medicare, promised but not yet provided," he said.
Thursday, Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill unveiled a tax relief plan of their own, devoting one third of the surplus, almost $900 billion for tax cuts that they say is more targeted to the lower and middle class. Democrats also would devote a third of the surplus to programs such as education and Medicare and a third of the surplus would be set aside to pay down the debt and protect Social Security and Medicare.
"We can set aside a surplus to save Social Security or Medicare, or we can pass the burden of the baby boomers retirement off on to our children," said Spratt. "This choice was hardly considered as the House Ways and Means Committee moved massive tax cuts down a fast track. What the budget needs is not a fast track, but an honest and earnest debate, not just about taxes, but about all of our priorities," he said.
Bush has promised to form a presidential commission to reform Social Security and place it on "firm financial ground."
The full House of Representatives is expected to vote on the core part of the president's plan, which the House Ways and Means Committee approved along party lines Thursday.
That measure would reduce income tax rates across the board, eventually reducing the highest income tax rate to 33 percent and the lowest to 10 percent. The House Republican plan would also make part of the tax cut retroactive to January 1 of this year, by reducing from 15 percent to 12 percent, for the year 2001, and the year 2002, the first $12,000 of taxable income for a couple and the first $6,000 of taxable income for a single person. The rate would be reduced to 11 percent in 2003 through 2005, and to 10 percent in 2006.
While the full House is likely to approve the measure, Republicans in the Senate say they still do not have the votes to pass the president's plan, with some moderate members of Bush's own party believing his tax cut is too large.
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