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Bush Is Upbeat On Economy

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Facing growing concerns and criticism about the economy, President Bush expressed optimism Thursday that the country is heading in the right direction — toward "greater prosperity and more jobs."

Mr. Bush acknowledged that, "The recession was hard on a lot of Americans." But he added that many people were helped by the tax cuts he pushed through Congress.

"Had we not taken action," the president said, "this economy would have been in a deeper recession." He said as many as 1.5 million Americans would have been out of a job were it not for the tax cuts.

Mr. Bush's upbeat message was intended to ease anxiety among voters and answer Democratic presidential candidates who accuse the president of breaking his promise to create jobs. Under his administration the nation has suffered a net loss of 2.7 million jobs; polls show the economy is the No. 1 issue on voters' minds.

"America's economy today is showing signs of promise," the president told a cheering audience of 2,500 businesspeople at the Kansas City Convention Center.

"We're emerging from a period of national challenge and economic uncertainty," he said.

While the president got an enthusiastic reception inside, hundreds of demonstrators stood behind police barricades outside to protest his economic record and the war in Iraq. "Bush lies, soldiers die," one sign said. "Who's recovery. I just got laid off," another sign read.

Mr. Bush outlined six steps that he said would build confidence among employers and strengthen the economy. They ranged from health care measures, streamlined regulations and restrictions on medical lawsuits to a comprehensive energy plan, expanded trade and tax breaks.

With Democratic presidential candidates Howard Dean, John Kerry and others calling for the repeal of some or all of the administration's tax cuts, Mr. Bush portrayed such policy as economic folly, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.

"Higher taxes will not create one job in America. Raising taxes would hurt economic growth," he said.

He challenged Congress to make recently enacted tax cuts permanent rather let them expire on schedule. "When we threw out the old taxes, Americans didn't expect to see them sneaking in through the back door," he said.

The Midwest is crucial to the president's re-election strategy and his trip here marked his 13th visit to Missouri. The only states he has visited more frequently are Florida and Pennsylvania. Mr. Bush won Missouri's 11 electoral votes by fewer than 79,000 votes in 2000.

Unemployment in Missouri was 4.3 percent when Mr. Bush took office in January 2001 and now is 5.6 percent — lower than the national average of 6.2 percent. Missouri suffered the largest employment decrease of any state from June to July, down 39,600 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Turning to budget deficits that have soared during his presidency, Mr. Bush blamed them on war and recession.

Wrapping the problem in patriotic terms, he said, "My attitude is, any time we put one of our soldiers in harm's way, we're going to spend whatever is necessary to make sure they have the best training, the best support and the best possible equipment."

Mr. Bush usually speaks for a half hour or less but he went on for 42 minutes, detailing what he described as the benefits of tax cuts and other steps to stabilize the economy.

"Our economy is starting to grow again," he said. "Americans are feeling more confident. I am determined to work with the United States Congress to turn these hopeful signs into lasting growth and greater prosperity and more jobs."

Mr. Bush said the economy had been hurt by the recession, the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001, corporate scandals and the war in Iraq

"The march to war is not conducive for hopeful investment," he said.

"Our military campaigns and the war on terror have cost our treasury and our economy. Yet they have prevented greater costs."