Bush pushes for economic stimulus package
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Fresh from a holiday vacation at his Texas ranch, President Bush met Monday at the White House with his economic team and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to discuss ways to jump-start an economy in recession.
With Bush was Vice President Dick Cheney, making a rare appearance with the president. Since the September 11 terror attacks, the two have routinely kept different schedules as a safety precaution.
Bush convened the meeting just an hour after setting foot on the White House lawn, officially ending his 12-day holiday.
Speaking briefly with reporters, the president said he is optimistic that 2002 would be a better year for the economy than 2001, but was emphatic that he would continue pressing Congress to pass his economic stimulus package. The much-debated proposal would include assistance for unemployed workers and another round of tax cuts, and has run into Democratic opposition.
"We're making good progress on winning the war in Afghanistan, and we've got to make good progress in helping people find work," Bush said. "The question I'm going to ask, and the question I hope Congress asks is, How best to create jobs? What can we do to encourage economic growth so that people who want to work can find work?"
Bush said he would include an economic stimulus package in his fiscal year 2003 budget proposal, to be submitted to Congress next month.
While the House has passed a stimulus package that contains much of what the president wants, the administration has not fared so well in the Senate, where neither Republicans nor Democrats have been able to muster enough votes to get competing plans approved.
"We did make good progress on an economic stimulus package," a feisty Bush said when queried by a reporter. "We had a bill come out of the House of Representatives, and there was a bill that could have passed the United States Senate. There was enough votes. Had the bill been brought up on the floor, it would have passed.
"Along the way, there was an attitude that said, 'Maybe we don't need a package.' I happen to think we do need a package."
"I hope that when Congress comes back, they will have listened to their constituents and that 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 and not try to play politics," Bush insisted.
The president again made it clear, as he did during a weekend swing through California and Oregon, that he would resist any congressional efforts to delay or defer the $1.35 trillion tax-cut package passed last year. Either of those moves would be tantamount to a tax increase, he said.
"To change in the midst of the phasing-in of the tax-relief plan would send the absolute wrong signal to the economy and say ... we weren't serious about tax relief," he said. "Tax relief is a part of the economic recovery plan."
Bush conceded that the federal budget may go into the red if the administration has to finance the war on terrorism and homeland security without dipping into Social Security and Medicare money.
"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 times of a recession," he said. "And we're still in all three."
Bush has roughly two weeks to get his administration's economic team working on a long-term strategy before Congress returns from its winter recess on January 23. He will likely preview his economic priorities, and his 2003 budget demands, during his State of the Union speech later that week.
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