Bush Pledges Commitment to Columbia River Project

Campaigning in a state he lost by less than 7,000 votes four years ago, President Bush weighed in with election-year support for Oregon on Friday, saying his administration will fight for federal money that would give a boost to the state's economy.

After repeated requests, Bush says the White House is backing $15 million in proposed congressional appropriations to deepen a 100-mile channel from Portland to the Pacific Ocean.

Oregon's jobless rate is at 6.8 percent, substantially above the 5.5 percent rate nationally, while its economy is among the fastest growing in the country, adding 6,900 jobs in June. Bush's Democratic rival John Kerry (search), who was campaigning in the same city, focused on taxes and energy.

The Bush administration is "committed to keeping America's great ports open for business," Bush told hundreds of supporters on the banks of the Columbia River.

Since Bush took office, the White House budget office has opposed new projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (search) not required by environmental laws.

Deepening the channel would cut costs for shippers and expand export opportunities for farmers and manufacturers. Portland is the largest wheat export port in the United States and the largest volume auto handling port on the West Coast.

The president's comments came as he distanced himself from another economy-related issue, a suggestion that he wants to replace the federal income tax with a national sales tax.

Bush created a stir earlier this week when, in response to question from a supporter at a campaign forum in the Florida Panhandle, he said such a tax is "an interesting idea that we ought to explore seriously."

Kerry suggested such a plan would impose a new burden on working families.

Bush said Thursday night that his point was that "we ought to explore ways to simplify the tax code."

Bush has suggested an overhaul of the tax code would be a priority if he is re-elected.

Earlier Thursday, Kerry said a national sales tax would be an insult to financially struggling voters and would amount to "one of the largest tax increases on the middle class in American history."

In an interview, Bush tried to portray Kerry as one who will raise taxes. Kerry wants to eliminate Bush's tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year, and use the money to pay for health care, education and other needs.

"The tax code is way too complicated, but let me just make this clear so everybody understands," Bush said. "I'm the guy that believes in reducing taxes and keeping them low. It's the other fellow that says he's going to raise taxes and I think it'll be a mistake to raise taxes now."

Bush sat for the interview during a five-day campaign swing that included a stop in Los Angeles. He was embraced by two of the state's Republican icons, Nancy Reagan and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, hoping their glow would rub off on him in a state that remains hostile territory to him.