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Bush Turns to Doling Out Money to Satisfy Key Voters

By Doyle McManus
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

In announcing on Wednesday a massive increase in government aid for wheat farmers that will help politically vital Midwestern states and a jet fighter sale that will save the jobs of Texas aerospace workers, President Bush clearly illuminated a key part of his plan for winning back disaffected voters.

Bush's strategy is simple -- hand out federal aid and make policy decisions that benefit important voting groups, even though it sometimes means diverging from his long-held policies.

Beginning with a $2 billion job retraining program announced last week, Bush's campaign has been dominated by announcements of presidential largesse, from hurricane-ravaged Florida to the rippling grainlands of South Dakota.

And there will be more of the same to come. "We're looking for actions the president can take on his own over the next two months," a White House official said.

Using the powers of the White House to impress the voters is a time-honored tactic for presidents caught in tough re-election races, at least in the 20th century. Franklin D. Roosevelt did it; Lyndon B. Johnson did it. Richard M. Nixon revived it as the "Rose Garden" strategy. Now George Bush has taken the Rose Garden on the road, complete with checkbook.

In the last week-and-a-half:

* Bush unveiled a $2 billion program to retrain workers who lose their jobs because of freer trade, a type of program he once resisted as expensive and ineffective. He said that the new spending would be balanced by cuts in other programs, but refused to say what cuts -- if any -- he had in mind.

* The president said that the federal government would pay the entire cost of rebuilding South Florida's schools, hospitals, bridges and other public facilities, instead of the usual 75 percent.

* He also promised to rebuild Homestead Air Force Base, the hurricane-struck area's largest employer, even though a commission on bases had recommended its closing. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said helping South Florida's economy recover was a major reason to revive the base; aides noted that the cost could reach $500 million, and will require a congressional appropriation.

* He announced $775 million in disaster assistance for farmers -- and noted pointedly that the recipients will include not only the rice growers of Louisiana and the avocado growers of Florida, whose crops were destroyed by Andrew, but also flood-hit cotton growers in East Texas, a state critical to his election hopes.

* He tripled the amount of wheat eligible for export subsidies from 10 million metric tons to 30 million -- half of the 1992-93 U.S. crop -- thus guaranteeing farmers $1 billion in federal payments, according to Agriculture Department estimates. After first announcing the plan in South Dakota Wednesday, he later told cheering farmers in Shallowater, Texas, that it represented "the largest (export subsidy) initiative in history." Bush has been pressing U.S. trading partners in Europe to reduce their agricultural subsidies, and the increase was certain to draw jibes from Paris and Bonn -- but it played well in Shallowater. Aides explained that Bush still wanted global subsidy reductions, but until he gets them he intends "to ensure that U.S. producers are able to compete."

* Also Wednesday, in a significant foreign policy reversal, he announced that the United States will allow General Dynamics Corp. to sell 150 F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan -- saving at least 5,800 Texas jobs. Previously, the administration insisted that under a 1982 agreement, no new jets could be sold; but officials decided to argue that the new planes are really just "spare parts," whose sale the pact allows.