SANTA FE, N.M. – President Bush began his two-day tax-cutting tour Monday, taking particular aim at states with Democratic senators the White House thinks might cave to pressure to increase the $350 billion limit the Senate has set on a tax cut.
It's time for a "big decision" to be made in Congress, Bush told wildly cheering small business owners in Albuquerque, N.M., at a family-owned manufacturing company called MCT Industries (search).
"I'm here to remind not only you all but our fellow Americans that when you raise your voices, the people in Washington tend to listen," the president said.
The president initially proposed a 10-year tax cut of $726 billion, but has since settled for a $550 billion package that the House passed on Friday.
Bush spoke in Albuquerque before traveling to Omaha, Neb. On Tuesday, he will speak to voters in Indiana.
These are the home states of Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman, Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh respectively. Bayh is up for re-election next year.
New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and Republican Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce attended Monday's event. Democratic Rep. Tom Udall did not.
Bush noted that those lawmakers "strongly support" his economic package.
He also took a shot at critics who have charged that the plan would only support the rich.
"That's just typical Washington, D.C., political rhetoric, that's what that is," the president said.
Nelson has said he would go along with deeper tax cuts if the federal government would increase Medicaid and block grants to the states to keep them from having to cut programs and increase taxes to balance their budgets.
"He may be the deciding vote on a couple issues," Nelson spokesman David DiMartino said.
"Nelson is supportive of it being higher than $350 billion, but with him it doesn't matter the size as much as the content," DiMartino said.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Treasury Secretary John Snow (search) said federal tax cuts will create 1 million jobs, thereby boosting state revenues.
"The best thing for those states is higher growth rates, and the best way to help their receipts, and we're you know, we're sympathetic to some of their concerns in some of those cases, but the best way to help the states is to have a growing national economy, growing state economies, and that will lead to more state revenues," Snow said.
Bingaman spokeswoman Jude McCartin said the president is wasting his time talking around her boss, who voted against the $350 billion package in the Senate Finance Committee (search) last week.
"The president hasn't even called Bingaman," she said. "He didn't need to go to the trouble of visiting the state. He could have given him a call."
Bush urged constituents to make sure Congress enacts a stimulus plan "big enough to help people looking for work -- a plan big enough to help stimulate economic growth."
"The greatest asset we have in America is the productivity of our workforce -- we've got the finest workers in the world here in America. But "as long as our fellow citizens are looking for work, we must act," he said.
Bush has continuously stressed that small business growth is vital to the economy and that small businesses provide a majority of jobs. It's a cornerstone of his economic plan.
"Congress must pass a plan that invigorates the small business owner and the small business dreams of America," Bush said. "The origin of job creation is the small business owner."
The president also sent out a stern warning to corporate America, saying dishonesty won't be tolerated after the recent blemishes on the industry by the likes of Enron and Global Crossing, among others.
"We expect honest bookkeeping in America," Bush said.
"It's important for CEOs of big, publicly held corporations to understand that we expect them to learn the lessons of the past -- that shareholders, that employees, that Americans will insist they be held to account if they ever lie, cheat and steal."
Bush hailed the U.S. military and said U.S. forces will stick around in Iraq as long as it takes to get the country up and running again.
"We have a lot of work to do in Iraq," said the commander-in-chief. "We will stay as long as possible as long as the Iraqi people have a government run by and for the Iraqi people and then we'll come home."
He took the opportunity to once again tout the U.S.-led coalition's success in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the global war on terror, and tied it to the economy, saying that security for the homeland is in part reliant on economic security.
Democrats and a couple of moderate Republicans say the roughly $35 billion a year limit they've put on tax cuts is the most the country can afford, given the more than $400 billion-a-year budget deficits projected for the next couple of years, at least.
Bush blames deficits on excessive spending rather than tax cuts. In fact, aides are telling Bush supporters they will try and cut taxes every year Bush is in office, even if the government is running a budget deficit. The White House says the tax cut is a better reason for deficits than spending.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato (search) said the president's plan is a "high-risk" political move.
"Come the election, he's responsible for the economy. If it's better, he wants to be able to say he made it better."
If it's not, the administration could blame Congress for not assenting to the higher tax cuts he wanted, but Sabato said that won't wash. "If the economy is bad, voters blame it on the incumbent," he said.
On the way back from Indianapolis, the president will stop in Missouri to survey disaster sites resulting from tornadoes last week.
The president spent the weekend in Santa Fe, N.M., playing golf with former Yale classmate and co-owner of the Texas Rangers Roland Betts (search).
The owner of the plastic plant Bush is scheduled to visit in Omaha backtracked on Monday on attendance at the speech. The owner had told employees that if they wanted to hear the president speak, they would have to either take the day off and make up the work on Saturday, use a vacation day or take an unpaid day off. That decision has been withdrawn.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and Liza Porteus and the Associated Press contributed to this report.