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CNN Today

President Bush to Present His First Budget to Congress

Aired February 26, 2001 - 2:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush is focused on some other numbers right now. He presents his budget bill to Congress tomorrow. The centerpiece of which, of course, is his tax cut idea: $1.6 trillion over the next 10 years. Democrats criticize that tax cut as too big and favoring the rich. How does the president plan to respond? Let's check in with our White House correspondent, Major Garrett. Let's see what's on the agenda for this week -- Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Lou.

Well, what's on the agenda, White House officials concede, is a very big test for President Bush. He delivers a joint session -- rather a speech tomorrow to a joint session of Congress, a nationally televised speech, where he will outline his budget and his tax proposals for the country.

And the two tests White House advisers see is one test to Congress. Do his numbers add up? Does the math make sense to members of Congress seated in the House of Representatives?

The second test, equally important, is does it pass a political test for the American people who are watching? Does it lay out a coherent vision?

The president and his advisers believe that it will. And in a meeting just a few moments ago here at the White House with his Cabinet, where he's discussing final preparations of his budget, the president said he will deliver a very plain-spoken summary of that vision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People are going to hear in plain-spoken words why I believe, strongly believe we meet priorities, pay down debt, protect Social Security, and as importantly, make sure that people get some of their own money back -- make sure the economy is strong, help people pay for high energy bills, to help people manage their own personal -- personal debt. We need to have tax relief, tax relief that the people can feel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: Lou, let's pull one nugget out of that summary President Bush just laid down: paying down the debt. White House officials have told CNN that that's really going to be a key part of his speech. He is going to try to co-op the message of debt relief, which Democrats have used so far, at least in part to criticize his plan, saying that he will accelerate the payment of federal debt, try to persuade the American people that they can have the debt paid down plus receive a tax cut, all at the same time meeting other domestic priorities, such as education, Medicare and defense spending -- Lou.

WATERS: Of course, Major, this pardon business has been taking headlines across America. Is there any evidence to suggest that the Democrats are getting any traction in -- in their efforts to undermine this huge tax cut by calling it an element for the rich?

GARRETT: Very scant evidence of that, Lou, at least from the perspective of White House advisers. They do pay very close attention to the ability of Democrats, particularly in Congress, to get that message out. And what they feel has happened, with all this publicity about former President Clinton, is that those Democratic critics still in Congress, still part of the game here in Washington, can't get that message out.

And there's another thing White House officials also believe is happening: that the negative publicity about former President Clinton has sort of left Democrats on the Hill demoralized, without a strategy, without a voice to get that message out to the American people through the media. They believe President Clinton is stealing most of their thunder, which gives them, at least for now, a tactical advantage, one they hope to exploit right away.

The White House is asking the vital House Ways and Means Committee to begin moving on that Bush tax cut as soon as Thursday of this week, to get that tax cut moving and to get the legislative momentum behind it -- Lou.

WATERS: Major Garrett at the White House today, where the president is preparing his address to the joint session of Congress.

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