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April 11, 2024

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Bush tries again to sway Voinovich on taxes

LIMA, Ohio — President Bush swooped yesterday into the home state of a fellow Republican who refuses to go along with his drive for more than a half-trillion dollars in new tax cuts, deriding supporters of a “little bitty tax relief package.”

In a two-city swing through politically strategic Ohio, Bush toured the plant that makes the Abrams M1A2 tank, the workhorse of mobile forces that fought in Iraq. He devoted a second speech of the day to touting progress in bringing self-government and security to the Iraqi people in the wake of the ousted Saddam Hussein regime.

“Iraq must be democratic,” Bush told a boisterous crowd of plant workers. “One thing is certain, we will not impose a government on Iraq.”

By fusing the economy and national security in one trip, Bush mirrored the formula he has employed in other recent trips and foreshadowed his re-election strategy.

Democrats, meanwhile, previewed their own election strategy against Bush: Back the president on national security but sharply question his economic plan.

Bush used the first stop of his ninth trip to Ohio to lean on Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican from that state who along with Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe has refused to support tax reductions of more than $350 billion over a decade.

“It’s important that Washington respond to some of the problems we face,” Bush said on the shop floor of a ball-bearing factory in North Canton. “For the sake of our country, for the sake of the workers of America, Congress needs to pass this jobs growth package soon.”

Voinovich says he won’t yield to a pressure tactic that seemed to work last time Bush was selling a tax cut. Bush visited Ohio in February 2001 to promote that year’s $1.6 trillion proposal, and Voinovich — often skeptical about such cuts — announced his support a week later.

Voinovich spokesman Scott Milburn says Voinovich will not back any tax cut over $350 billion without reductions in spending, even in the face of Bush’s trip to two Ohio cities.

First in the receiving line, Voinovich applauded as Bush walked down the steps of Air Force One in Dayton. Bush grabbed the lawmaker’s hand and shook it as the pair chatted for about five seconds, both smiling. As the president made his way to the next person in the receiving line, the senator patted Bush on the shoulder.

Later, Voinovich told a reporter the two did not talk specifically about the tax plan.

“We agree on the stimulus package,” Voinovich said, trying to play down his differences with the popular president.

“I think he knows where I’m at,” the senator added. “I think the economy needs a shot in the arm. I just don’t want to shoot the deficit in the foot.”

Without mentioning Voinovich by name, Bush took him and other opponents to task for agreeing that some tax cuts are OK but not the amount the president says is necessary to kick-start the lagging economy.

Speaking at a North Canton company owned by longtime heavyweight GOP donor W.R. Timken Jr. – and at a private roundtable beforehand with workers and other small business owners – Bush pushed his plan for at least $550 billion in tax cuts over a decade.

“Some in Congress say the plan is too big,” the president said. “It seems like to me they might have some explaining to do. If they agree that tax relief creates jobs, then why are they for a little bitty tax relief package? If they believe tax relief is important for job creation, they ought to join us.”

Voinovich himself was absent from both events, something Bush seemed aware of as he noted “we got a lot of people showing up today” and ticked off a long list of local and congressional politicos.

Aides said the senator had scheduling conflicts.

At the Army tank plant in Lima, Bush scrambled atop and down from a mighty Abrams tank during a tour of the plant. In his remarks, he thanked the workers for assembling the best weaponry “in the history of warfare.”

Bush plans to wrap up the war in a major address after war commander Gen. Tommy Franks tells him that hostilities are over – a recommendation the White House plans to receive in the next few days. Bush’s address could come as early as next week, said several White House officials.

They are considering venues inside the White House as well as on the road. A more formal address to Congress, proposed by some Republicans with close ties to Bush, is not as likely. Separately, Bush plans to travel to Dearborn, Mich., on Monday to discuss the future of a newly liberated Iraq. The Detroit suburb is home to one of the nation’s largest Arab communities. Like Ohio, Michigan is an important state for Bush politically.

On Thursday, however, Bush almost slipped and made the war-ending declaration ahead of schedule. “Now we have finished a war – in the process of finishing a war – in Iraq,” he said.

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