SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – His voice rising to a shout, President Bush lashed out at Democratic rivals who want to roll back his tax cuts as he defended his economic priorities Monday in a presidential primary state where his record has been harshly criticized.
"There are some in Washington that are going to say, 'Let's not make the tax cuts permanent.' That means he's going to raise your taxes," Bush said at a factory. "When you hear people say, 'We're not going to make this permanent,' that means tax increase."
The Democrats running for president say they would repeal all or portions of Bush's tax cuts, and Bush seemed to step more forcefully into his re-election campaign as he defended his tax policies. Some of the cuts are to expire next year, including those for married couples, and Bush is asking that Congress make them permanent.
It was Bush's 15th trip to Missouri and another case of the president appearing in a state recently visited by Democratic presidential hopefuls. He went to South Carolina on Feb. 5, two days after that state's Democratic primary; in late January, he visited New Hampshire, two days after its primary. Missouri's primary was last Tuesday.
The visit coincided with the release of a White House report predicting that the economy would grow by 4 percent and create 2.6 million new jobs this year. If the jobs forecast is realized, it would mark the first year of the Bush presidency with a net increase in jobs. Since he took office, the country has lost 2.2 million payroll jobs.
On the campaign stump, Democratic Sen. John Kerry (search) said Bush had the worst jobs record of the last 11 presidents.
The rosy view of the economy presented in the new report was probably "prepared by the same people who brought us the intelligence on Iraq," Kerry said.
In addition to his appearance at a factory, Bush spent some time at the Bass Pro Shops sporting goods store where he shopped for fishing gear. "Which way to the worms?" Bush asked as he shook hands with several hundred shoppers.
As the president left, he rattled off his purchases: "I bought a reel. Some line. Two spinner baits. Some worms."
In his speech, Bush sought to confront criticism that his tax cuts have widened the budget deficit. The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that making all Bush's tax cuts permanent would increase federal budget deficits by about $2 trillion between 2005 and 2014.
"Let me tell you what's going to happen when they raise them," Bush said. "They're going to say, 'Oh, we got to raise it so we can pay down the deficit. Uh-uh. They're going to raise the taxes and increase the size of the federal government, which would be bad for the United States economy."
Bush narrowly won Missouri in 2000 and his repeat visits demonstrate his resolve to carry it again. Several hundred supporters filled part of the warehouse at Springfield Remanufacturing Corp., an employee-owned company that rebuilds diesel and gasoline engines and engine components for cars and agricultural and construction equipment.
Sitting next to Bush was Jack Stack, the president of SRC, the holding company of the factory Bush was visiting. Stack gave $2,000 last year to the presidential campaign of Democrat Dick Gephardt, a fellow Missourian. Stack has given to an array of state and national political causes, most of them Democrats.
Stack's wife and three of his five children also donated the maximum $2,000 to Gephardt, who dropped out of the race last month. Stack told The Associated Press Monday he is now undecided on whether to vote for Bush or one of the Democrats.
Democratic Missouri Gov. Bob Holden, reacting to Bush's visit, said the state had gained more than 27,000 jobs in 2003, but "we have done this in spite of President Bush, not because of him."
Three signs that read "Jobs for the 21st Century" flanked Bush, two of them set on photographs of NASCAR race cars. That was a nod to the NASCAR championships in Daytona this weekend, where Bush is will be courting Southern voters.
This year's 412-page "Economic Report of the President," presented to lawmakers Monday, is considerably more upbeat than Bush's report a year ago, issued at a time when the country was still mired in a lackluster recovery with the unemployment rate continuing to rise.
In the new report, prepared by the president's Council of Economic Advisers, the president says that the country has been able to overcome a series of shocks starting with the bursting of the stock market bubble in early 2000 followed by the first recession in a decade, the terrorist attacks, two wars and corporate accounting scandals.
The unemployment rate is now falling, hitting 5.6 percent in January, a month in which the economy managed to create 112,000 new jobs. However, even with the job growth of recent months, the country still has 2.2 million fewer payroll jobs than when Bush took office in January 2001.