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Special Event

Bush Discusses Tax-Cut Package in Arkasas Elementary School

Aired March 1, 2001 - 10:37 a.m. ET

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

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now live to North Little Rock, Arkansas. You see there President Bush. He's visiting Lakewood Elementary School and he's being introduced to the crowd now by the principal, Kaye Lowe.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

KAYE LOWE, PRINCIPAL, LAKEWOOD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: ... we can keep up with them and we can meet their needs.

We welcome you into our forum today. We're proud to be able to sit here with you and talk about education, to talk about character- centered teaching and reading and teacher training. We know that those are areas that you have asked for increased funding.

Most of us here today are educators. Most of us are parents, but we're all taxpayers. And we're proud that you're at Lakewood (ph) and we thank you for coming to Lakewood to discuss your budget program.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you very much, Kaye. It's an honor to be here. I -- first, a good school depends upon the leadership of a good principal. And it didn't take me long to recognize, one, this is a good school, and, two, Kaye Lowe is a good principal.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: I want to thank our panelists for coming. I really love going to schools and to see the enthusiasm of the teachers and the bright eyes of the students, and it certainly was the case here today.

Before I begin, I want to thank the leadership of the state of Arkansas for coming, two fine United States Senators, Senator Hutchinson and Senator Lincoln. I want to thank Vic Snyder for being here as well.

Governor, I've got a message for you, Lieutenant Governor. You requested that the FEMA look at the possibility of the government funding 100 percent of the cost of the debris cleanup here as a result of those ice storms that hit Arkansas. Today, sir, I've got a letter for you, providing 100 percent funding from the federal government to the state of Arkansas.

(APPLAUSE) I've got also a very positive message too for the people of Arkansas. First, it starts with setting priorities. I want to spend a little time, and then I promise to let other people talk.

But it's important for America to hear that the budget I submitted is one that is a realistic and reasonable budget, one that sets priorities.

One thing that our governments must do is set priorities. Without priorities, there is haphazard spending. The job of a president is to set clear priorities.

A priority of mine is public education. It was a priority of mine as the governor of the state of Texas; it is a priority of mine as the president. I understand, however, that even though it is a priority, that does not mean that Washington, D.C., should run public schools.

(APPLAUSE)

And so I look forward to working with members of the Congress to pass power out of Washington, to provide flexibility so local jurisdictions can help design the strategies necessary to make sure that every child in America gets educated.

Secondly, we are spending more money, and that's important. However, there needs to be a results-oriented approach to the expenditure of money, whether it be federal money, state money or local money. The cornerstone for reform, the whole concept of making sure no child gets left behind, rests upon strong accountability systems.

One reason we came to this school is because this is a school that's not afraid to measure.

It's a school, by the way, that not only measures but does not view a measurement system as a way to punish somebody. They view a measurement system as a way to diagnose problems early and correct them early so that no child is left behind.

(APPLAUSE)

And so we'll have a wide-ranging discussion here about education. And it's an important discussion to have, but I want to put it in the context of an overall budget.

Part of the priorities of a budget is to make sure we can keep the peace. So I have prioritized paying our soldiers more money in order to boost morale.

I have prioritized setting aside all of the money designed for Social Security to only be spent on Social Security. I'm confident that both Republicans and Democrats will hear that cry, that the days of, you know, using Social Security monies to pay other programs has ended.

(APPLAUSE)

The Medicare budget doubles, and that's important. But we also have got to have Medicare reform so that seniors have got options from which to choose. All options will include prescription drugs.

So the budget sets priorities. Medicare is a priority. Social Security is a priority. Education is a priority. And the defense of our people are priorities.

Everybody else is going to have different priorities, trust me. I heard some last night, from the able senator. But that's how the system works. My job is to set clear priorities, and I have done so.

A second priority is to pay down debt.

There's a lot of discussion about debt at the national level, and we ought to pay down debt. This budget pays down $2 trillion of debt. Now, people say, "Why don't you pay down more?" Well, it doesn't make any sense to pay off bonds before they retire, before they come due. It's a reasonable approach. It makes eminent sense to do it this way.

We've also got money set aside for contingencies. There's a trillion dollars over 10 years for contingencies. That's a smart thing to do, and we've done that. Some may say, "What do you mean by contingencies?" Well, emergencies are contingencies.

And then we may have another bad situation for our agricultural sector, in which case we need contingency money. And so there's a trillion set aside for contingencies.

And so, we've set priorities. And we'll argue about whether or not the priorities are the right priorities. Some of them are going to say up there, "Well, you know, he didn't put enough in for education." Or "He didn't put enough in for the military. He didn't put enough in or here or there." Those, sometimes, are the people who aren't responsible for viewing the budget in its entirety. And that's OK. Everybody's entitled to an opinion. And there's a lot of them in Washington.

But I just want to assure you that the budget I submitted sets priorities, pays down debt, has a contingency fund, and there's still money left over. And I'm going to argue vociferously, any time anybody will listen, that at this point in our nation's history, the wise thing to do with that money is to remember who paid it in the first place, and let the payers keep the money.

(APPLAUSE)

I believe that tax relief ought to go to everybody who pays taxes. I don't like the idea of the federal government saying, "Well, we're going to pick and choose who the winners are. You're targeted in, and you're targeted out." To me, that is not fair. And that's not the right way to approach a tax relief. If you pay taxes, you ought to get relief.

I do agree with the critics who believe that the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder ought to get the highest percentage of relief, and my plan does that. It cuts all taxes for everybody. We drop all rates, including the bottom rate, from 15 percent to 10 percent, and increase the child credit from $500 to $1,000 per child. We lessen the harsh effects of the marriage penalty and we eliminate the death tax. That's the basic plan.

(APPLAUSE)

Steven Benson (ph) is here -- a parent of two, proud husband of Sheila -- for a reason, because he's a taxpayer. He pays $4,620 in federal income taxes. Under this plan, in which everybody who pays taxes will get relief, he saves $1,710. That's above the national average for a family of four, which is $1,600. Now, you'll hear people say, "Well, that's not much money." Well, that's a lot of money if you're paying higher energy bills, and folks who work across America are paying high energy bills. It's a lot of money if you've got consumer debt, and there's a lot of discussion about national debt and there should be.

And as I mentioned, we're doing the best we can to pay down $2 trillion of national debt.

But Washington, D.C., folks need to understand there's a lot of people who've got consumer debt as well. And the idea of substantial tax relief, after we meet priorities, will help people like the Bensons (ph) manage their own debt. It's one thing to be focused on the national balance sheet; the president and the Congress needs to pay attention to the people's individual balance sheets. And that's exactly what this tax relief plan does.

(APPLAUSE)

So I appreciate so very much the opportunity to not only make the case for education reform, and this school gets it.

And evidently you get it too, Governor, because the idea of insisting upon accountability as the cornerstone for reform makes imminent sense.

We'll argue about the remedies for failure. We'll argue about what the consequences for failure are. But the truth of the matter is, the whole reform system begins by measuring, by holding people accountable, by holding up success so that we know whether or not the reading curriculum that has been put in place here works. The principal assures me it does. And the reason she's able to say so with certainty is because you measure, and, therefore, another school that may have trouble teaching their children how to read, will be able to say, "Well, let's see how they do it here." We can prove that it works.

And so, thanks for giving me a chance to come, and also talk about the budget. It's going to be on peoples' minds for a while, until it gets passed. I will assure you, I'm going to try to keep it on peoples' minds.

(APPLAUSE) HARRIS: We're going to dip out of this now. President Bush there taking some questions from some of the panelists there who have assembled there at this elementary school. This is Lakewood Elementary School in north Little Rock, Arkansas, and the President making the case for why his tax plan needs to be passed.

He says he does set priorities -- that being strengthening the military and protecting Social Security. He also says that his budget does provide for Medicare being doubled; however he says that system must be reformed -- that is something Democrats have been challenging him on. He says his plan does pay down the debt by some $2 trillion and he says it doesn't make sense to pay down more because it doesn't make sense to pay down -- pay bonds before they become due.

He began his comments this afternoon -- I want to break out to a comment he made at the top because he broke a little bit of news -- he told Arkansas Governor Huckabee that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has now decided to grant 100 percent funding to the state of Arkansas to pay for the cleanup and recovery from the ice storms that devastated that state just about a month ago or so -- Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, as we heard President Bush talking about education today -- one of his favorite topics -- also launching a national literacy initiative. But some groups already have their own programs away.

Actor Hill Harper is working with the Village Foundation, which offers a literacy program for African-American boys. He is in our New York bureau to talk more about what this group is up to.

Hill, good morning, good to see you.

HILL HARPER, ACTOR: Good morning; thank you very much. You know, it's very -- it's ironic to follow President Bush talking about education from a school, to talk about the Village Success Club and the Village Foundation.

KAGAN: Well, tell us a little bit about it. You're pushing literacy, especially among African-American boys; why that group?

HARPER: African-American young men and boys...

KAGAN: Why so important for that group?

HARPER: Well, it's so important because we want to repair the breach that's going on between greater society and this quote, unquote "at-risk group." Our literacy rates among African-American young men and boys is deplorable. And it's deplorable in a state like Texas where Governor Bush was running the school system in his way that he says promotes education.

So we want to take it upon ourselves, as a nonprofit organization, to support and push for literacy among this group. And we're not limiting the group at all to African-American boys. It's going to be open to anyone who signs up. However, the main focus, just like the historically black colleges, is on African-American young men ages eight to 18.

KAGAN: And so how do you do that, Hill? I imagine one of the first things you have to do is get the kids -- pushing literacy -- is that cool?

HARPER: Yes, well, you know -- part of that is the idea. OK, you figure what do kids love and what are they into? You know, right now, you know, hip-hop music is what's going on. Folks think that's cool and that's what's going on. So -- but what can you do? You can use new technologies and set up chat rooms so these kids can have an opportunity to talk to each other.

You know, 94.5 percent of all young men, through public library system, have the opportunity to get on-line. And so we want to encourage our membership across the country to use the public library system if they don't have computers in their homes, as well as find corporate sponsorship to get computers into the homes of some of these children and figure out ways that they can start to communicate and -- you know -- about books or what they read -- did they read this magazine, this magazine -- they listen to this music -- and figure out ways of promoting literacy, that it's cool, it's funky, it's hip, not something that's stuffy and, you know, sit down and read Tom Sawyer. Let's figure out different ways to improve literacy.

KAGAN: And it's not just about getting the kids -- it's also about getting mentors?

HARPER: Absolutely; it's about finding mentors around the country that are willing to spend time -- whether we're talking about cybermentors or we're talking about mentors right there with young men, meeting them -- whether it be church organizations or civic groups and through colleges, universities -- mentors that are young, older. It's interesting; we're finding that so many people are coming out because they really want to promote literacy in the community...

KAGAN: Want to do something and get something done.

Real quickly -- if folks want to get involved, is there a Web site they can check out?

HARPER: Yes, the Web site is www.vscluvvsclub.org., or www.villagefoundation.org.

KAGAN: That's the easy one to remember; we'll leave it with that.

HARPER: That's the easy one to remember. But the phone number, if folks don't have computers, and this is important, is toll-free, 877-THE-MALE -- T-H-E-M-A-L-E.

KAGAN: That kind of male.

HARPER: Yes.

KAGAN: Very good. Hill Harper, always a pleasure to have people along not just complaining about problems, but getting involved and doing something about it.

HARPER: Thank you very much.

KAGAN: Good luck with the project.

HARPER: Thank you.

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