BELLE, W.Va. – On the day before Congress returns to Washington, President Bush road-tested some of his themes for the State of the Union address, heading to West Virginia to push his economic stimulus and energy bills.
Talking to machine workers, Bush said the best way to increase jobs is for the government to create the environment for employers to hire workers, in particular by returning more tax money to corporations and individuals.
"There's kind of a wacky economic theory going around in Washington, the more we take your money in taxes, the better off we'll be. It doesn't make any economic sense. It doesn't make any dollars and cents, and here in West Virginia and likely elsewhere, they go 'Oh, I know this is nonsense,'" Bush said.
Bush is proposing an economic stimulus package that provides ample tax relief to corporations, including accelerated depreciation on capital purchases and other incentives. The bill is currently stuck in the Democratic-led Senate.
Critics of the Bush plan say tax cuts are too generous to corporations and the wealthy. They add that the 10-year $1.35 trillion tax cut approved last June is responsible for the drop in the surplus that will force the government into deficit spending this year.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who worked with Bush on a massive education overhaul, proposed last week repealing the tax cut passed by Congress, but most Democrats have rejected that call in the face of widespread support for the tax cut.
Bush said that his plan will offer the best opportunity for companies to hire workers, and used the Walker Machinery Company, where he gave his speech, as an example.
"I want the Walkers to have more money to reinvest in their business. I want the Walkers to be able to have more cash flow so they can upgrade their equipment which the workers here use. It means it's more likely that somebody's going to find a job for the long term," he said.
Bush did push a proposal supported by Democrats. He said he will ask for more money in his 2003 budget for Job Corps, a program which gives disadvantaged youth an opportunity to learn job skills.
"As technology changes, we got to make sure the workforce changes with it. And that's why I strongly support local job training programs," he said.
West Virginia's economy has lost 4,400 jobs since last year, mostly in the manufacturing, trade and construction industries, though its unemployment rate of 4.5 percent is below the national rate of 5.8 percent.
The president earned wild applause when he floated his energy plan, saying that reducing reliance on foreign sources is a matter of national security.
Last week, Bush showcased the energy plan in a meeting with labor leaders. In West Virginia, he repeated a campaign pledge that he wants to rely more on clean-burning coal technology, a boon to coal-producing West Virginia, which voted for Bush in the 2000 election.
"I believe we can have coal production and enhanced technologies in order to make sure the coal burns cleaner. I believe we can have both. Now I know there are some in Washington who don't want to concede that. But they must not have much faith in the technology that's coming online. But I don't believe we can be independent as a nation unless we've got a constructive coal policy."
"We need to use coal. We got a lot of it, and we need to make sure that we got coal," he said.
The most controversial part of the president's energy package is a plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Opponents also say the bill reflects old thinking that would not lessen the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has vowed to block the president's plan in the Senate. He unveiled his own plan Tuesday that proposes to get 20 percent of energy from renewable sources like solar, wind and geothermal plants by the year 2020.
"If we enact the entire Bush energy plan we will find ourselves 20 years from now more dependent on foreign oil than we are today," Kerry said Tuesday.
Testing the waters for a run at the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Kerry said his energy plan would also call for higher mileage standards for cars, including SUV's, and offer tax credits to encourage people to buy hybrid, gas-electric vehicles.
Bush has said that conservation is an integral part of an energy policy, but the country can't conserve its way out of its energy problems, so it must generate new sources.
He also said the energy bill would create hundreds of thousands of union jobs.
Speaking earlier at the Air National Guard hangar at Yeager Airport, Bush told guardsman that the United States is winning the war on terror. He said later that his objective is not to get terrorist leader Usama bin Laden, who is blamed for orchestrating the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but to get rid of terror globally.
"The mission is broader than just one person. The mission is to make sure that terror, wherever it tries to settle in, is rooted out," he said.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.