May 5, 2003
Posted at: 2:15 p.m. CDT
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- President Bush said he was on his way back to Washington from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Bush said ``I figured what the heck, I'd stop by Arkansas.''
Bush first praised Arkansas leaders who greeted him: Lieutenant Governor Win Rockefeller, State Republican chairman Marty Lyall, Congressman John Boozman, and Little Rock mayor Jim Dailey.
He expressed his sympathy for the victims of tornadoes across the Midwest and South, in which 32 people were killed.
He pledged the full resources of the federal government to state and local agencies dealing with the disaster.
He said: "The best thing we can do right now is pray for those who suffer.''
After outlining the military successes and challenges still left in Afghanistan and Iraq, he then launched into his call for immediate tax reform.
He said there are many signs of a recovering economy, such as low interest rates, low inflation and declining energy costs.
But he said tax cuts were necessary to reduce unemployment and the burden on working families and on small businesses.
He gave examples of Arkansas business owners who would benefit from the tax cuts, giving them the ability to buy more equipment and hire more employees.
``Any tax policy has to focus on small business, and the plan I just submitted to Congress does that,'' Bush said
While speaking in support of his tax-cut plan, President Bush received several standing ovations from the crowd of supporters and small business owners.
Lorrie O'Byrne praised Bush's plain-spoken style and said the speech made her think more about the economy after being focused on the war for so long.
Becky Clark of Benton is a stay-at-home mother who said she agrees with Bush that tax relief is needed.
About 15 protesters gathered outside the auditorium as the president spoke. Most brought complaints about Bush's economic policies, though one person advocated legal marijuana
Forty-eight-year-old Neal Fealy of Little Rock dressed up as a character called ``Millionaire Man.'' He joked that he supports Bush's tax cut plan because it would help him and hurt the poor.
Predictably, at least one Democratic member of the state's Congressional caucus lambasted the Bush plan.
"The speech from the President today is a clear indication that he is out of touch with the needs of Arkansas' working families. In fact, experts say that 40 percent of Arkansans would not see their taxes reduced by a single penny as a result of the President's plan," Berry said.
"More than anything else, Arkansas' economy needs more good-paying, steady jobs and the President's plan would do nothing to make that happen," Berry said.
Berry also expressed concern about the rapidly escalating size of the national debt and criticized the President's plan claiming that the federal government will have to borrow nearly $6 trillion more in the next ten years.
"The bottomline is: the President's plan is bad for the economy in the short-term because it won't create jobs and bad for the economy in the long term because it will drive our nation even deeper into debt," Berry said. "If the President's tax plan passes, it will double our national debt and be next-to-impossible to fund Social Security and Medicare at current levels."
Bush also said double taxation on corporate dividends must be eliminated, so that companies will be more honest in their tax payments.
He said the nation got into deficit because of the recession, when tax revenue declined, and because he committed troops to Iraq.
He said reduced spending by the federal government was the way out of deficit, not collecting more tax revenue.
As he left the stage, Bush shook hands with business owners who sat behind the podium. He was expected to go directly to the airport to return to Washington to host Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on Wednesday.