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CNN Today

President Bush Set to Begin Budget Battle

Aired February 26, 2001 - 4:04 p.m. ET

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

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now this is an important week for the man who did become president, Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush is selling the budget that will set the tone for his four-year term in office. Today at the White House, he took time out to meet with a group of the nation's governors. He announced he is forming a working group to study federal rules applied to the states and ways to reduce them.

Tomorrow, that address from Mr. Bush, his speech to a joint session of Congress, will be his first chance to command the nation's attention since the inauguration. Tomorrow night, Mr. Bush will tell the taxpayers, all of us, how he would like to spend our money and how he would like to give some back as well.

CNN's John King today at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every budget reflects a president's priorities and governing philosophy.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to spend more money, but we need to spend it wisely. I'll make the case we need to set high standards, trust governors and local folks to manage the schools.

KING: The first Bush budget is anchored on key campaign promises: A $1.6 trillion tax cut over 10 years; a nearly $5 billion increase for the Department of Education; $2.8 billion more for additional federal spending on medical research; and $1 trillion in contingency funds over 10 years. The president will propose using that money to cover the costs of allowing individuals to steer some of their Social Security payroll taxes into private investment accounts.

KENNETH DUBERSTEIN, FRM. REAGAN CHIEF OF STAFF: He is launching his presidential governing campaign in the sense of his policies and his beliefs and, oh, by the way, his personality as well, and if he shows and demonstrates that special personality, that charm as well as tying it to the policies that he's advocating, I think he can be a real knockout.

KING: The administration says the growing federal budget surplus leaves enough to pay for some new spending, the tax cut, and still keep the government on course to wipe out its long-term debt over the next five or six years. But it is a tough sell in an evenly-divided Congress. A few Republicans say the Bush tax cut is too big, and Democrats say the president's approach risks a return to deficit spending.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Every American deserves a tax cut, and we want them to get it, but we want it to be of a size that we don't put at risk everything we fought for to pay down the debt and to be fiscally responsible and to invest in the needs of the country.

KING: After presenting his budget blueprint to Congress, Mr. Bush will hit the road to sell it. This week's stops are in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Omaha, Nebraska; Little Rock, Arkansas and Atlanta, Georgia.

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's going to be no Bill Clinton. There's going to be no any other distraction. It's going to be George Bush to the American public, and they'll be able to see him both substantively and stylistically. So, for the president, this is a huge week.

KING (on camera): The president began rehearsing his speech over the weekend at Camp David. Aides say he recognizes the difficult political challenge just ahead, but is looking forward to making his case, first to the Congress and then directly to the American people.

John King, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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