Bush Offers His `Agenda for American Renewal'By Ann Devroy
The Washington Post
President Bush Thursday drew together a disparate package of his administration's past proposals to revive the nation's economy and reintroduced them under a new umbrella that he said will be the basis for a second-term "agenda for American renewal."
In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, a five-minute campaign commercial broadcast Thursday night on four television networks and a 29-page document sent to Republicans nationwide, Bush sought to convince American voters that he has a coherent plan to achieve a goal of almost doubling the size of the U.S. economy. The plan, he argued, is based on principles of limited government and reliance on the marketplace that differ significantly from those of his Democratic opponent, Bill Clinton.
Bush's presentation, the first substantive effort of the new White House team installed last month by Chief of Staff James A. Baker III when he arrived from the State Department, provides a unifying rationale for many of the administration's previous initiatives. It offered two major proposals that were new -- to "right-size" the executive branch of the federal government by reducing and eliminating agencies and cutting salaries and personnel, and to launch a "strategic network" of free trade agreements across the globe.
"I want America to seize this moment," the president said, "I want to stimulate entrepreneurial capitalism, not punish it; I want to empower people to make their own choices, not yoke them to new bureaucracies. I want a government that spends less, regulates less and taxes less. And I will fight without hesitation ... because Americans never retreat, we always compete."
The political rationale for the repackaging was clear in Bush's introduction by Michigan's Republican Gov. John Engler, who called the president "the man with the plan." Bush has been widely criticized for going from one election-year economic plan to another in order to convince voters he understands and will work on reviving the stagnant economy.
"Perhaps the point that we haven't conveyed effectively," a senior aide said, "is how (prior Bush proposals) all fit together. So that's what this is trying to do today, to show the comprehensive approach."
In a statement issued from his Little Rock headquarters, Clinton rejected the package as "more of the same: more tax cuts for upper-income people and more deficits and less growth. We've tried this for 12 years. Now, just two months before the election, the president repackages it."
At the same time, a statement put out by Clinton's campaign said that many ideas included in the speech -- such as cutting the White House staff and preparing the American people "for a lifetime of learning" -- echoed Clinton's own proposals.
Among the guiding principles in Bush's speech was his pledge to cut taxes and reduce spending. As "just an example" of how $132 billion in spending reductions could be used, he cited a 1 percent cut in tax rates and a 5 percent reduction in the small business tax rate. As in other specifics of his budget proposals, Bush would not commit himself to such a 1 percent reduction.
The agenda distributed to Republicans lists a Baker's dozen -- 13 legislative items -- that Bush said will be his top priorities the first year of his second term if he is re-elected. The purpose of the list is to gain a voter mandate for a specific legislative package, something Bush did not do in his first presidential campaign.
"Many people have said in the past that candidates don't go out and ask for a mandate, they don't talk about the ideas they want to try and accomplish as soon as they get elected," said a senior official. "These are the 13 things he wants to get done."
Among the familiar items on the list are Bush's education package, which includes a proposal to allow the use of federal vouchers for private schools; his health care proposals outlined this year; revision of the legal system, limits on congressional terms and a ban on contributions by political action committees, all of which the Democratic Congress has rejected in whole or part the past two years.
In the economic realm, the list of top priorities includes such Bush favorites as giving the president the power to veto individual budget items and a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, plus "a package to cut spending" that includes the cap on the growth of mandatory spending and the taxpayer's "checkoff" unveiled at the Republican National Convention last month.
The directly economic priorities also include a job training program Bush unveiled last month, approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement and new trade negotiating authority for completion of trade pacts in Latin America, eastern Europe and the Pacific.
The overall goal is economic growth and the specific pledge from Bush was to almost double the U.S. economy to a gross domestic product of $10 trillion by early in the next century. An aide said that is achievable assuming a growth rate of 3 to 4 percent, and a similar inflation rate, an ambitious outline for an economy growing at less than 1 percent during his administration.
An official called the goal "useful" in telling voters that Bush's major effort will be promoting growth, although a pledge Bush made in his 1988 acceptance speech to create 30 million jobs over eight years has been ridiculed by Clinton since there has been an overall loss of private-sector jobs since Bush became president.
"For America to be safe and strong, we must meet the defining challenge of the 1990s," Bush said, "to win the economic competition, to win the peace. We must be a military superpower, an economic superpower and an export superpower."