WASHINGTON – President Bush, trying to reassure recession-battered Ohio about disappearing jobs, said Wednesday his political opponents would pursue a "tired, defeatist" path of higher taxes and less trade.
Speaking in a state that has lost more than 200,000 jobs since he took office, Bush blamed the nation's economic woes on factors beyond his control -- a recession that officially started just after his inauguration, business scandals he said were brewing for years, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Trying to project empathy for displaced workers, the president said repeatedly he understood anxiety felt by Americans who are swept up in a changing economy. But, he told a conference of businesswomen, "some politicians in Washington see this new challenge and yet they want to respond in old ways."
"Their agenda is to increase federal taxes, to build a wall around this country, and to isolate America from the rest of the world," Bush said on his 15th trip to this critical electoral state.
"That old policy of tax and spend is the enemy of job creation; the old policy of economic isolationism is a recipe for economic disaster," he said. "Americans have moved beyond that tired, defeatist mind-set, and we're not going back. There's a better way."
Bush never mentioned the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry (search).
Kerry agrees with Bush on extending some tax cuts past next year, but the Massachusetts senator would roll back tax cuts for Americans who earn more than $200,000. Kerry supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (search) and other trade pacts but says he would place all such trade agreements under 120-day review to see if they are fair for America, taking unspecified steps if they are not.
The president pointed to bright spots in the economy: rising home ownership and unemployment rates that have ticked down from 5.9 percent in November to 5.6 percent last month.
"Through the hard work of our people, the innovation of our businesses and the good policies now in place, we have put a recession behind us," Bush said. "This economy has challenges, and we know how to meet them."
While the economy is a central issue in the campaign, the White House described Bush's trip as an official visit, meaning taxpayers pick up the costs.
Bush made a 10-minute dash through Thermagon Inc., a small company that makes materials that conduct and disburse heat from computers and other equipment. About 60 percent of Thermagon's products are exported, the White House said.
Bush used a small cloth dampened with a cleaning agent to wipe dust from sheets of plastic. Putty is later applied to the plastic film to draw heat away from electronic equipment. After swiping both sides of a sheet, Bush told workers, "As far as I'm concerned, this is perfectly clean."
About 300 protesters demonstrated outside the speech site, just across the street from the stadium where the Cleveland Browns play.
"No more Bush," the protesters chanted. About two dozen members of the Sheet Metal Workers Union (search) wore yellow T-shirts and stood in front of a 15-foot inflatable rat balloon with a sign that said "Jobs Not Bush."
Kerry criticized Bush's economic policies Wednesday, telling an AFL-CIO (search) meeting that "George Bush will fight like hell to keep his own job, but he won't lift a finger to help Americans keep theirs."
Nationwide, 53 percent of registered voters disapprove of the way Bush is handling the economy, while 45 percent approve, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted earlier this month.
Bush renewed his call for Congress to pass other elements of his economic growth plan: making permanent an array of tax cuts due to expire this year; reducing dependency on foreign oil; cutting red tape on small business; stopping "frivolous" lawsuits; and making health care more affordable.