White House Maps Economic Plans

President Bush delivers an address to supporters gathered in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday, Nov. 3, 2003. Bush delivered an address on the economy before attending a fund-raising luncheon.
AP
A two-day White House-sponsored conference on the economy beginning Wednesday is aimed at boosting President Bush's proposals for more tax cuts, free trade, tort reform and Social Security changes, while the president promised his administration will work to shore up the dollar.

While hoping to gather new ideas for giving those plans momentum, Bush aides acknowledge new proposals aren't in the cards for the forum being held Wednesday and Thursday at the Reagan federal office building near the White House.

The issues on the agenda are aimed at promoting the second term agenda, reports CBS News Correspondent Peter Maer.

"What we need to do is to continue to make changes in the areas of tax reform and eliminating lawsuit abuse and bringing down health care costs," said Commerce Secretary Don Evans on CBS News' The Early Show Wednesday morning.

Evans said those changes and Social Security reform would boost the economy.

Brookings Institution economist Henry Aaron disagrees.

"If one wanted to set the most perverse possible agenda, one that would exacerbate the U.S. budget deficit, increase our current account deficit, and reduce savings still more, President Bush's agenda would be ideal," he said. "If one wants to deal effectively with the economic problems that we confront, we would not be hearing sweetly seductive calls to cut taxes, but honest consideration of how to raise them."

Vice President Dick Cheney was to open the conference with a brief speech on Wednesday. Mr. Bush planned to deliver remarks closing the sessions Thursday afternoon.

Before that, the president pledged Wednesday to work with Congress to reduce the United States' huge budget deficit to assure markets that his administration supports a strong dollar.

"The policy of my government is a strong-dollar policy," Mr. Bush said during an Oval Office meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"We're going to take this issue on seriously with the Congress," the president said.

Six discussion panels with outside business leaders and economists were to be moderated by Bush administration officials. The president planned to take part in two panels, on the costs of lawsuit abuse and on the need to confront short-term and long-term deficits. Cheney was to participate in a third, a broad discussion of the current state of the economy.

The speeches and panels are meant to highlight the president's major plans for boosting the economy: overhauling Social Security and the tax code, making recently passed tax cuts permanent, curbing lawsuit abuse, restraining federal spending, helping educate and train workers in a changing economy, making international trade freer, reducing the regulatory burden on businesses and passing a comprehensive energy plan.

"The president has outlined specific ways that we can move forward to continue to strengthen our economy," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "The president has not outlined all the specifics of some of those initiatives, and they (the panelists) will be able to provide some useful and thoughtful insight into how we move forward on implementing those policies."

Creating more jobs is an important task for President Bush. The still-recovering job market has been seized upon by Democrats who contend the president's economic policies have failed to induce enough steady hiring expansion by businesses.

The economy added a net 112,000 jobs in November, considerably fewer jobs than analysts had expected and a big drop from the 303,000 positions added in October.

More than 2 million jobs have been created in the past year, but Mr. Bush remains 313,000 jobs short of avoiding a net loss of jobs during his presidency.

The dollar has fallen sharply in value against the euro and other major currencies. Despite White House expressions of support, the administration has not taken action to prop up the dollar. During Mr. Bush's four years in office, not once has the administration intervened in currency markets to support the dollar or done anything else to stop the dollar's slide.

The decline in the dollar means that a vacation for Americans in Europe is now more expensive, and European products coming into this country cost more.

Berlusconi raised the dollar issue with President Bush, and expressed the concern of many Europeans.

"The best thing we can do from the executive branch of government in America," the president said, "is work with Congress to deal with our deficits. One deficit is a short-term budget deficit. Another deficit is the unfunded liabilities that come with Social Security and some of the health programs for the elderly."