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Bush Issues Upbeat Econ Report

Declaring that "America's economy is strong and getting stronger," President Bush told Congress Monday in his annual economic report that last year's tax cut was doing the job in reviving business growth.

This year's 412-page "Economic Report of the President," is considerably more upbeat than Mr. Bush's report a year ago, issued at time when the country was still mired in a lackluster recovery with the unemployment rate continuing to rise.

In the new report, written as a strong defense of the president's economic stewardship, the president says that the country has been able to overcome a series of shocks starting with the bursting of the stock market bubble in early 2000 followed by the first recession in a decade, the terrorist attacks, two wars and corporate accounting scandals.

"Americans have responded to each challenge and now we have the results: renewed confidence, strong growth, new jobs and a mounting prosperity that will reach every corner of America," Mr. Bush wrote in the message transmitting the report to Congress.

"To my mind, it looks a little on the optimistic side," Standard & Poor's chief economist David Wyss told CBS Radio News. "We do think things will improve. 2004 should be better than 2003, but I'm not sure it's going to be this much better."

The release of Mr. Bush's economic report, prepared by the president's Council of Economic Advisers, came on a day when the president was appearing in Missouri to tout the country's economic rebound, one of three such trips he has scheduled this week.

"It's the third week in a row that the president tries to make his case in a state recently dominated by the field of Democrats who want his job," reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller. "Mr. Bush will use his visit to Springfield to again make the case the his economic policies are working, citing the latest drop in the unemployment rate, low inflation and interest rates."

In the report, President Bush took note of a number of encouraging developments in recent months, including strong economic growth beginning last summer which has finally begun to encourage the nation's businesses to start rehiring laid off workers.

"We're still down over 2 million jobs from where we were four years ago, at the peak of the economic expansion," said Wyss. "Certainly we didn't get off to a good start, only 112,000 jobs added in January. That leaves them only 11 months to come up with the other 2½ million."

"Certainly, job creation isn't running at the pace that the president predicted it would," says CBS News Senior White House Correspondent John Roberts. "Democrats certainly are, at every turn, letting him know that there is still a big problem with employment in this country."

Acknowledging his jobs' deficit, Mr. Bush said, "We are moving in the right direction but have more to do. I will not be satisfied until every American who wants a job can find one."

The president credited last year's tax cut for making a sizable contribution to boosting economic growth.

Democrats and the Bush administration's first Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, have attacked that tax cut as being unnecessary and have charged that it made the deficit problem worse. Mr. Bush fired O'Neill in December 2002 after he raised objections to going forward with further tax cuts.

But the criticism isn't coming just from Democrats, reports Roberts.

"There are many conservative Republicans and even some moderates who believe that the president is spending far beyond his means," he says.

The economic report came a week after the president sent his new budget to Congress, a document that projects that this year's deficit will hit a record $521 billion.

Mr. Bush blamed the huge deficit on the recession and the costs of boosting security at home and fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said that his budget contained a plan to cut the deficit in half over the next five years, a task he said would be made easier by the growing economy.

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