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President Bush Meets With Small-Business Owners

Aired March 16, 2001 - 2:31 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to be getting you to the White House now. There's an event going on in the East Room about to feature the president at any moment.

Let's check in with White House correspondent Major Garrett about this event, which we understand is centered around tax relief for small business, maybe.


The president likes to make the assessment of his tax plan that, when Democrats criticize it for benefiting the wealthy, one thing he likes to say is: Well, some of the people in those upper-income tax brackets are actually owners of small business, who don't file corporate income taxes; they file the profits for their small business on their personal income taxes.

And with a rate cut down from 39.6 to 33 percent, the president believes a lot of small businesses in America would benefit through that rate cut, would be able to hire more Americans, enjoy more profits and continue to hire more people, one part of his tax plan that he says, in many cases, would stimulate economic growth -- Lou.

WATERS: So what's the strategy here now with the president back at the White House? We knew he was on the road. He was trying to get some of those U.S. senators who he could swing toward his tax relief plan to go along with his plan. Now he's back at the White House. We have this event today. What's the strategy behind all of this?

GARRETT: Lou, the strategy is very, very simple. That is to pound the tax cut message as often as he can from whatever venue he feels is best. Today is the White House. Next week, it will be in Maine when he goes up to talk to some community leaders up there. There are two main Republicans senators there who are a little bit unsure about the size of the tax cut. The White House believes it's important to get them on board.

But whether it's Missouri or Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, the president is going to go around the country. But also, when he is here at the White House also, bring home the message that tax cuts are good, tax cuts are necessary for economic growth, and that Congress should move on them, all a part of strategy here at the White House to keep that message going again and again and again. The White House has calculated that many Americans only hear the president off and on. They don't hear him in the echo chamber like we do.

It looks like the president in coming into the East Room now. Let's turn to the president.


GARRETT: The president making his way to the podium there in the East Room. Again, the message: to underscore the importance of tax relief for small businesses.

Here's the president.



Thank you all for coming. Be seated.

Madam Secretary, thank you very much for the kind introduction. I want to welcome you all to the White House, the people's house. I can't tell you what an honor it is to live here. It's been a fantastic experience for me and Laura and our family, and we take our responsibility seriously.

I want to welcome you. I want to welcome the entrepreneurs of America.

First, I want to recognize Hector Barreto, who is the nominee for the Small Business Administration.



The president of the Utah State Senate, Al Mansell, is here as well.

Al, thank you for coming.


Before I introduce the folks behind me, I'd like to say something about commonsense budgeting, something you get to do every day. Something our federal government ought to do with your money, and that is take a commonsense approach about what we do with the people's money. And it means setting priorities, understanding whose money it is we're spending. And the best way to do this is to say, what are our priorities? Education is a priority. We need to focus on education.

But I also remember where I came from, and it's one thing to spend money at the federal level, it's another thing to make sure we understand how to achieve educational excellence for every child, and that means trusting local folks to chart the path to excellence. The people who care more about the children in a respected community are the people who live in the community. And so while we'll focus some federal resources, we need to trust the local people by passing power out of Washington, D.C., to run the public schools in America.

And at the same time we got to insist upon results. You do that every single day with your businesses. The federal government ought to start doing that as well.

And so we're going to say, "There's more money for you. But show us whether or not children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. You measure. You show us so that not one single child gets left behind."

Another priority is the defense of the country. It's a solemn, solemn task of the president to keep the peace, which means we've got to prioritize spending in the military. And it starts with making sure we pay our troops more money. And so my budget says there's more money for those who wear the uniform and better housing for those who wear the uniform, and taking care of the veterans for those who used to wear the uniform.

Another priority is health care. We've got a plan to take care of the working uninsured by refundable tax credits. We double the Medicare budget over a 10-year period of time.

Another priority is to make sure that the Social Security system is safe and secure. And it starts with spending the Social Security money on only one thing: Social Security.


So this is a budget that I submitted that sets priorities. It increases what's called discretionary spending by 4 percent. That's enough to fund our priorities and keep our commitments without overburdening working folks and small-business owners.

Now part of the consternation here in Washington is that I don't want to spend as much money as they used to spend up here. By setting priorities and focusing and remembering whose money it is we're spending, I think we can slow the rate of growth down.

You see, at the end of last time, the last session, discretionary spending increased 8 percent. That's a lot, particularly when you're talking in terms of trillions. And so we've said, "Let's be responsible with the people's money. Let's focus. Let's meet needs. But let's always remember who money it is in the first place."

There's a lot of discussion about debt reduction, and that's a worthy discussion. The budget I submitted pays down $2 trillion in debt. That's all the debt that's coming due over the next 10 years. That's $2 trillion over 10 years.

People say, "Well, why don't you pay down more?" For those who've got long-term debt and know, there is a cost to prepaying debt, and it doesn't make any sense to pay a premium to prepay debt with the people's money. That's not good fiscal policy. It doesn't bring common sense to the budget.

But when we discuss debt, I want members of Congress to understand there's more than just government debt. There's credit card debt that burdens working people. There's debt in the private sector. And it seems to make common sense to me that when we're planning what to do with the people's money, that we not only pay debt at the national level, but we give people some of their own money back or don't take in the first place so they can manage their own debt, so small businesses can manage their debt.

I set aside money in our budget over a 10-year period, in the 10- year budget, for contingencies. So there's a $1 trillion over 10 years that's not spent, just in case something gets up.

What I'm trying to do is to layout exactly what we've got planned for the country. We increased discretionary spending by 4 percent. That's greater than the rate of inflation. That's greater than most people's paychecks have risen by.

We pay down debt by $2 trillion. We set aside $1 trillion of contingency money, and the debate is what to do with the rest. Because, you see, incredibly enough, as a result of your hard work and the tax burden on the American people, there are still money left over. And so what do we do?

And by the way, before I tell you what I think we ought to do, I want you to know that the assumptions in the plan are conservative assumptions. For example, over the 10-year period, it is assumed our economy will grow at 3.2 percent. We can do better than that in America. We don't have to have such pessimistic view of the productivity of the American people and the ingenuity of the entrepreneurs and the hard work of small-business people. We will do better than that.

And so I want to assure my fellow Americans that the assumptions in the budget are very conservative assumptions. After all, in the first four months of this year, the cash flow coming into our treasury is $40 billion more than anticipated.

And it seems like to me that if you're collecting $40 billion more than you thought, somebody is being overcharged.

WATERS: President George W. Bush in the East Room.

Major Garrett, you were speaking about the simple strategy of hammering home a message. This is essentially the same speech we heard the president delivered in Newark, New Jersey before that joint meeting of the Chambers of Congress up there.

GARRETT: That's right. It's a "Reader's Digest" condensed version, if you will, of the address he gave to a joint session of Congress just a week-and-a-half ago. And though we here in the echo chamber in Washington say: Wow, you know, we have heard this speech again and again, the White House knows most Americans don't listen to the president every day.

They maybe get a little bit of the president on the radio, maybe see a little bit on television on the evening news. They don't hear it all the time. What the White House wants to do is continue to put this message forward. What the president has, in his words: a responsible budget that deals with priorities that the White House, through excruciating polling, has identified are the top of the list of most Americans -- education, Medicare, Social Security, defense spending -- but also has room for a tax cut and debt reduction.

The White House has tried to tailor this package to address the needs of as many Americans as they can find throughout their polling data and persuade them that this really is a plan that can work across all systems. What Democrats will say is: You can't have everything in this country, the president's overpromising, and that Congress will inevitably spend more than the president wants to, will go over that 4 percent limit he wants to put on federal spending, and that if you have this big tax cut, perhaps -- perhaps, maybe in the years ahead -- deficits could return to Washington.

That is the central argument now. But from the president's point of view, the message will remain the same: slightly condensed versions in different venues and at different times, but the message essentially the same: He has got a plan. It's the right one. He wants Congress to enact it -- Lou.

WATERS: Major Garrett at the White House.



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