Published January 13, 2015
President Bush attended four panels for 15 minutes each at Tuesday's economic forum held at Baylor University -- meeting with everyone from CEOs to regular Joes to discuss plans to protect investments and get the economy on a roll.
"Even though times are kind of tough right now, we're America. I'm incredibly optimistic about the future of this country because I understand the strength of this country ... We got a lot going for us," Bush said while opening the half-day conference.
The president said that he couldn't be at every panel, but promised "that even though I won't be sitting through every single moment of the seminars -- nor will the vice president -- we will look at the summaries."
Vice President Cheney sat mostly in silence during his visits to sessions on trade, technology, small business and education.
"I don't propose to make any remarks," he said at one point. "I came here to listen; the best policy this morning is to sit here and soak up your wisdom."
Having flown in from his Crawford ranch nearby, the first panel Bush sat in on was set up to discuss small investors and retirement security.
With words shared by investment guru Charles Schwab, much of the language sounded like it should have been reserved for the corporate responsibility panel.
They discussed ways to hold CEOs responsible if they cook the books, and whether the companies should count stock options given to executives as losses.
Schwab, whose company manages 8 million individual accounts with $800 billion in assets, also had ideas to help small investors dealing with taxation of stock dividends and using a tax break as security for investors who lose money in the market.
"We ought to encourage the [Financial Accounting Standards Board] to accelerate the development of a system for the consistent valuing and expensing options. I'd like to set a target date of Jan. 1 for expensing options, or we'll have more confusion -- alienation in investors -- if we don't do consistent methodology," Schwab said.
Bush seemed to like what he heard.
"I love your ideas about how to account for loss and double taxation of dividends. That makes a lot of sense," he said.
The president mentioned investor confidence several times, saying he wants clearer language coming out of Wall Street and more transparency so investors can know exactly what they are buying into.
"Confidence is more than just government enforcing the law. Confidence is an industry policing itself," he said.
The economic forum was meant to bring together 250 farmers, teachers, corporate executives, ethics experts and others to huddle with key Cabinet members, as well as Bush and Vice President Cheney. Among the many elite, though, were the CEOs of International Paper, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the New York Stock Exchange, American Express, Home Depot, Caterpillar, Intel Corp., the National Association of Manufacturers, Folgers Coffee, eBay, Verizon Communications, National Semiconductor and Yahoo! Inc.
Bush also planned to use the platform offered by the forum to announce he would not release $5.1 billion officially earmarked for combating terrorism -- some of which Congress earmarked for purposes unrelated to homeland security.
Some administration officials said Bush was blocking the money as a signal to Congress to cut spending, which earned a critical response from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
"You can't strengthen our economy by weakening homeland security. I fail to see how cutting funding for transportation security, counterterrorism, or health care for firefighters strengthens either our economy or our nation," Daschle, D-S.D., said.
While the composition of the group left little room for dissent, though considerable space for brainstorming, opponents protested a few blocks away from the Baylor campus, screaming about issues ranging from anti-abortion to religious persecution in China.
"Human need, not corporate greed," was the chant of about 50 protesters, while two wore jailbird jumpsuits with Bush and Cheney masks.
The White House said the forum is about picking the brains of people outside the Beltway but should not be interpreted as a signal it has no ideas of its own.
"The president believes that the best solutions are found outside Washington, and that's why he wants to hear directly from working Americans and small investors," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
But Democrats, like Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, the House Budget Committee's top Democrat, said Democrats have been excluded in order to prevent true debate on the best course of action.
"By limiting this meeting largely to like-minded participants and special interests, the administration protects its policies from serious scrutiny," Spratt said in a news release.
Fox News' Mike Tobin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.