MACON, Ga. – President Bush portrayed Democrats on Tuesday as the party of big spending and high taxes, aiming to give increasingly endangered Republicans an edge in a midterm election debate dominated recently by congressional scandal and overseas crises.
"If you want to keep your tax cuts, vote Republican on Nov. 7," Bush said at a fundraiser for former Republican Rep. Mac Collins, who is seeking a comeback to Congress. He is challenging Rep. Jim Marshall, seen as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents.
"Next month, our nation has got this choice to make," the president said. "Do we keep taxes low so we can keep this economy growing? Or do we let the Democrats in Washington raise taxes and hurt the economic vitality of this country? ... This decision will have a huge impact on the working people all across the United States of America.
Bush is hoping to help Republicans retain control of both houses of Congress against ever steeper odds by convincing voters that Democrats would raise taxes and compromise Americans' safety if handed the majority. But the taxes-and-terrorism pillars of the GOP midterm election strategy, the mainstays of Bush's campaign-trail speeches, have been partially drowned out of late.
The revelation of a Republican lawmaker's online sexual advances toward male congressional pages has sparked a fierce debate about whether the GOP leadership did enough to protect teenagers working on Capitol Hill. North Korea's reported test of a nuclear bomb has given Democrats ammunition to argue that Bush focused on going to war in Iraq, a country without weapons of mass destruction, while the threat from the communist regime in Pyongyang expanded.
The degree to which the White House is struggling to regain control over the political conversation was demonstrated Tuesday when Bush aides distributed excerpts of the president's tough-on-Democrats speech before he landed in Georgia. Unlike previous administrations, the Bush White House keeps tight control over the president's speeches, usually handing out only the most significant ones in advance and even then only a few minutes beforehand.
On Tuesday, though, the parts of Bush's remarks that went after Democrats on taxes were given to the reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One and also, to maximize their exposure, disseminated by e-mail to hundreds more on the White House press list.
The event at the Macon Coliseum raised $300,000. Outside, there were demonstrators from both sides. About 150 people waved American flags and signs that said "God bless President Bush," while others held placards asserting that the president is a war criminal.
Bush singled out the voting record of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to ridicule her declaration that Democrats "love tax cuts." The president said Pelosi, likely to be House speaker if Democrats win control of that chamber, voted against reducing the so-called marriage penalty, phasing out the inheritance tax and cutting taxes for small businesses and families with children.
"Given her record, she must be a secret admirer" of tax cuts, Bush said of Pelosi, earning appreciative laughs from the friendly audience of GOP donors. "If this is Democrats' idea of love, I wouldn't want to see what hate looks like."
Pelosi, in a statement, fired back: "Democrats have a strong record fighting for tax relief for middle-class families and small businesses that would spur economic growth and expand opportunity for all Americans, not just the privileged few." She said Democrats would "restore fiscal responsibility with pay-as-you-go budgeting, reducing the budget deficits that have exploded as a result of President Bush's failed economic policies."
With some conservatives in the Republican Party's base of support restive about increased federal spending under Bush's watch, the president defended his record on the budget deficit. He said he is making faster-than-expected progress on his goal of cutting the annual deficit in half by 2009, because of higher tax receipts.
"The Democrats' approach to cutting the deficit is taking more of your money to pay for their spending," he said. "The Republican approach is to restrain spending."