By Sarah Lechner
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
February 28, 2001
President George W. Bush dismissed criticism of his new $1.6 trillion tax plan in his first speech before a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, saying his proposal is both “reasonable and responsible.”
In the nationally televised address, he outlined changes for the nation, including an increase in education, health care and defense spending and protection of the Social Security surplus, while stressing the importance of congressional bipartisanship to pass a tax plan he says will give back money to the American people.
“A budget’s impact is counted in dollars, but measured in lives,” Bush said before introducing Steven and Josefina Ramos, a family from Pennsylvania. The Ramos’ will save more than $2,000 under the proposal, Bush said.
The average family with two children will save $1,600 a year on its federal income taxes, he said. Bush also proposed lowering the number of tax rates from five to four, which will give relief to every person who pays income tax. He also said the child credit should be doubled to $1,000 per child.
“In my opinion, government should never stand in the way of families achieving their dreams. The surplus is not the government’s money, it is the people’s money,” Bush said while the crowd rose to its feet.
Bush said Congress owes it to America’s children and grandchildren to pay down $2 trillion of the national debt in the next 10 years.
“That is more debt repaid more quickly than has ever been repaid by any nation at any time in history,” he said.
The highest percentage increase in the budget will go to education, helping to train and recruit teachers, increase academic standards and accountability, and support nationalized testing. Bush’s budget proposal would triple education spending in the next five years, adding $5 billion to the Department of Education’s budget.
While Bush’s discussion of increased education spending brought applause from the entire chamber, Republicans and Democrats were obviously split on the president’s school choice proposal.
Only Republicans rose in applause as Bush said parents should be given federal money to send their children to a different school — public, private or religious — if their current school is failing nationalized tests.
“In the end, every child in a bad situation must be given a better choice, because when it comes to our children, failure is simply not an option,” he said.
The budget outline doubles Medicare spending over the next 10 years, dedicating $238 billion next year to the program. The money would fund all of Medicare’s current programs and begin a new prescription drug benefit for low-income seniors.
“No senior in American should have to choose between buying food and buying prescriptions,” Bush said.
Bush also emphasized the importance of access to health care for all Americans, helping uninsured families by providing them with refundable tax credits to purchase insurance.
Debate in Congress continues over whether the tax plan is too much or little money. Democrats responded to the president’s plan Tuesday night by saying that the numbers are deceiving.
“The president’s tax plan is far more expensive than the $1.6 trillion he claims,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). “When you add interest on the debt and other hidden costs, the true cost of the president’s tax cut is well over $2 trillion. It will consume nearly all of the surplus — at the expense of prescription drug coverage, education, defense and other critical priorities.”
Other Democrats also expressed their reservations.
“The key will be whether the numbers add up,” said Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.). “When things sounds too good to be true, they usually are too good to be true.”
While some Republicans said Bush was successful in his first speech before Congress, they are concerned about the number of programs in which Bush intends to increase spending.
“I liked the fact that he spoke about civility and bipartisanship,” Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) told U-WIRE Tuesday night.
Morella said she has reservations that Bush focused on too many areas to increase spending.
“He targeted so many areas to fund,” she said.
She said she would be meeting with other moderate Republicans Wednesday to look over Bush’s proposal.