President Bush and Sen. John Kerry zeroed in on the jobs issue Tuesday, blasting each other for not having a good enough economic policy to keep American workers off the dole.
Keeping foreign markets open to U.S. products and providing a level playing field for American workers and farmers is key to keeping the economy humming and making sure more jobs are created here at home, Bush said Tuesday in Appleton, Wis.
Addressing a crowd in a state whose exports were worth $11.5 billion last year, the president offered a thinly veiled criticism at Democratic rival Kerry for his economic views, particularly when it comes to outsourcing.
"Tax and spend is the enemy of job creation," Bush said in a speech at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, warning listeners that when people talk about reconsidering world trade agreements, it could mean less opportunity for U.S. businesses and workers to compete in the global marketplace.
"I think it would be absolutely wrong for America to be so pessimistic about our ability to compete that we become economic isolationist (search)," Bush said. "I believe this nation can compete anywhere, anytime, anyplace so long as the rules are fair."
For his part, Kerry told his own supporters Tuesday at the University of California in San Diego that he's "tired of hearing from Americans from all walks of life who tell me, 'senator, I'm working two jobs, three jobs, and I still can't get ahead' ... The one thing that doesn't go up that ought to go up are the wages of Americans that are working."
Saying the United States needs to take "steps of common sense" to make America more competitive, Kerry said he has a plan ready to go to put America back to work.
"This administration thinks outsourcing is just dandy … I don't think it makes sense, George Bush does. And when I'm president, we will take away any incentive for Americans to pay for the loss of their own jobs."
Laying out his tax-reform plan last week, Kerry said he'd tax overseas branches of U.S. corporations that take advantage of U.S. tax incentives to cover other parts of his plan. On Tuesday, he reiterated that plan and said he would create 10 million new jobs if elected.
"I will negotiate trade agreements that begin to put labor standards and environmental standards and raise the ability of Americans to work on a fair field," Kerry said.
Cassandra Butts, senior vice president and coordinator for economic policy at the Center for American Progress, said the outsourcing (search) issue will continue to be a big one.
"I would expect that the Bush campaign would try to address this issue to but it seems the approach Kerry is taking on the issue is a good first step," she said.
Back in Wisconsin, noting that the United States houses 5 percent of the world's population, Bush said, "that means 95 percent of the people out there should be buying products that say 'Made in the USA.'"
The best way to keep jobs here at home, Bush said, is "to make sure America remains the best place in the world to do business so that our job base will expand."
"The more vibrant the business sector, the more likely people will find work. The more vibrant the business sector, the more likely businesses will keep jobs here at home," the president continued. "Isolationist policies would endanger our economic recovery, cost U.S. workers jobs, lead to higher prices for American consumers, and put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage."
Kerry argues that he's no isolationist but American taxpayer money shouldn't go toward tax incentives to those companies who ship work offshore.
Wisconsin has lost 80,000 jobs since Bush took office; Appleton alone has lost hundreds of jobs in recent months.
Bush lost the state by fewer than 6,000 votes in 2000 and it is regarded as a battleground state again this year. Bush made sure to point out that the Badger State's unemployment rate was down to 5.2 percent in February from 5.8 percent a year earlier.
"Wisconsin is helping lead the growth of this country," Bush told his audience of Chamber of Commerce (search) members. "People are finding jobs here in Wisconsin because they're making products here that people want in other countries."
Pointing out that foreign-owned companies employ nearly 100,000 workers in Wisconsin alone, Bush said keeping the economy open to foreign competition works to U.S. worker's benefit.
"Foreign companies recognize how good the American workforce is, we're very good," the president said. "Competent trade policy means people want to set up their plants here," he added, saying by negotiating more free-trade agreements, "really, what we're doing is leveling the playing field."
'We Must Take All Threats Seriously'
Also Tuesday, Bush made an unannounced stop at the annual Governor's Conference on Emergency Management, where he said the nation is living in dangerous times but that his policy was to "get them before they try to get us" — a theme reiterated in his Appleton speech.
"We can't just sit back and hope that oceans will protect us now, we must take all threats seriously," Bush said. "The resolve of the country, by the way, is incredible when tested."
On the campaign trail, Kerry has been arguing that Bush's actions have simply made the world a more dangerous place and that if he is sent to the Oval Office, he'll seek more international cooperation on various issues, such as the War on Terrorism.
On Tuesday, Kerry promised that "within weeks" of being elected, he would return to the United Nations to mend fences with those countries who may have been giving the United States a slightly colder shoulder since the war in Iraq.
"I believe that multilateralism is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength," Kerry said. "We will rejoin the community of nations and we will turn over a proud new chapter in America's relationship with the world that makes us safer and stronger and more secure."
Kerry also spoke to the gay-marriage debate, blasting Bush's stance of defining marriage as only between one man and one woman.
"This is my generation and your generation's moment to define politics," Kerry said. "This is the most important election in a lifetime."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.