WASHINGTON – Picking up the first Democratic endorsement for his $674 billion economic stimulus package, President Bush appeared in Georgia Thursday with Sen. Zell Miller to push for tax cuts and reforms that aides say will create 2 million jobs over the next couple of years.
Bush met with small business owners and employees at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, an Atlanta suburb, to discuss how his growth plan affects businesses and families.
Bush said small business owners will benefit from an acceleration in cuts on the marginal tax rates on individuals, since small business operations are filed on personal income tax statements. Small businesses will also benefit from the president's proposal to increase the limit for expensing investment purchases from $25,000 to $75,000, the president contended.
"I think it's very important for our fellow Americans to know that when I talk about tax relief and talk about the entrepreneur spirit, it can relate directly to people in your neighborhoods and your communities," Bush said.
On the way down to Georgia Thursday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said that economic forecasters project a 3.3 percent economic growth rate this year, predicated on the passage of the tax cuts.
"If Congress fails to pass this plan... then economic forecasters will be forced to lower their estimates of growth," Fleischer warned.
Democrats say the plan is an attempt to benefit the rich with tax cuts. In fact, the bulk of the plan goes to eliminating the taxes paid on dividends to stockholders. Bush said a significant portion of Americans hold stock and would benefit from the tax cut.
"It's fair to tax corporate taxes ... It doesn't make economic sense to keep taxing the same dollar over again," Bush said. "It means less investment and standing between the owner of the company, the shareholder and the once taxed profit on that company."
Announcing his bid for president Wednesday, Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., the former House minority leader, described Bush's tax cut plan as "unaffordable, they're unsustainable and they're patently unfair."
"Huge budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthiest do not educate a single child, they do not extend health care coverage to a single family, they do not create a single job except for the special interest lobbyists who fight for them," Gephardt said. "Yet, President Bush has taken us right back to the broken policies of the past, the economics of debt and regret, unaffordable tax cuts for the few, zero new jobs, surging unemployment."
Some Republicans have also said they are not sure if the president's package is affordable and add that it doesn't do much to stimulate the economy, arguing that the new jobs won't be created until after the economy has recovered.
But Miller, a key Democrat, said he backs the president's strategy. Elected in 2000 to complete the term of the late Sen. Paul Coverdell, Miller has frequently said that he hasn't seen a tax cut he didn't like and would therefore co-sponsor the president's bill in the Senate.
Not seeking re-election in 2004 and therefore wasting little political capital with Democratic constituents opposed to a tax cut, Miller also co-sponsored the bill that ended in the 10-year, $1.3 trillion tax cut that passed Congress in 2001.
Bush said Miller has the right theory about how to grow the economy.
"I agree with Zell with his economic theory that when a person has more money in their pocket they are likely to demand a good or service ... and when you make that demand in a market oriented society like ours, somebody is going to produce it ... and that means somebody is more likely to find work," Bush said.
Receiving several enthusiastic rounds of applause, Bush wouldn't mind gaining a little political capital of his own from the outing. The president won Georgia in 2000 and would like to carry it again in 2004, when Georgia will deliver 15 electoral votes to its presidential choice. Georgia has recently turned Republican, electing in November a Republican governor, a Republican senator and converting the state Senate to a GOP-Dem tie.
On Thursday, the president was also signing the $397.4 billion 2003 omnibus budget bill, which finances every agency except the Pentagon through Sept. 30.
The measure was opposed by Democrats, who complained it shortchanges education and domestic security. The bill is billions more than the president wanted, however, and includes extra funding for farm aid, highway construction, doctors, hospitals and pork-barrel projects of several lawmakers.
"It's not a perfect bill," Fleischer said. "It's a sign of a broken-down process where the last Congress was not able to pass 13 individual appropriation bills, and by bundling 11 remaining bills together into one bill, it's a mischief-making process."
Aides say the president has scheduled a series of economic speeches as part of a strategy to show Americans he is not ignoring the economy while he builds a "coalition of the willing" to disarm Iraq.
They admit, though, that the president has only been partly successful with his speeches. Since he frequently mentions Iraq, the media turns its attention to that rather than the economy.
After his trip to Atlanta, the president was headed to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he plans to meet Friday with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who represents one of four staunch allies on the U.N. Security Council that support military action in Iraq.
The president is consulting with Aznar before the United States submits a second resolution before the Security Council -- probably early next week -- saying that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has used up his last chance to peacefully disarm.
Fox News' Wendell Goler contributed to this report.