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Bush Takes Pride in Signs of Economic Turnaround

Times Staff Writer

President Bush on Monday embraced recent signs pointing toward economic recovery during a campaign-style “conversation” with workers at a BMW factory here, calling the creation of 280,000 jobs nationwide in the past quarter “positive ... really good news.” The president said his economic policies would “make things even better.”

Bush’s comments marked a shift in both emphasis and tone over the last few days -- from reticence Friday in response to improving economic indicators to near-exuberance Monday in proclaiming that his agenda, most notably two across-the-board tax cuts, have set the nation on the road to recovery.

The government reported recently that the economy grew at a red-hot 7.2% rate during the third quarter. And retailers are expecting increased sales and seasonal hiring during the upcoming holiday period.

During his 35-minute appearance here, the president also delivered an expansive defense of global trade. But he did not mention his imposition in 2002 of protective tariffs on imported steel, saying merely that his job was to “make sure that we have a level playing field [and to] see that we’ve got free and fair trade.”

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The World Trade Organization on Monday ruled that U.S. steel tariffs violated international trade rules, setting the stage for the European Union to retaliate on $2.2 billion in U.S. exports. A White House spokesman said that the administration disagreed with the WTO ruling and that Bush had not decided yet whether to drop the tariffs or keep them in place until March 2005, as originally planned.

“We want free trade because we want you to be able to sell what you make here out of the state of South Carolina overseas,” Bush told the workers here. “Because if you’re not selling those cars overseas, then some of you may not be working, and we want you working.”

As recently as Friday in Winston-Salem, N.C., Bush was barely touting the upswing in economic indicators; that may have been because of the particularly bad employment picture in the South, which has seen its largest industries -- textiles and tobacco -- lose thousands of jobs in recent years.

But Monday’s shift in emphasis suggested a growing White House confidence that the economy is on a sustained road to recovery.

The BMW plant was a logical platform for Bush to use in promoting global trade. The factory, which broke ground in 1992 and now employs 4,700 people, was BMW’s first outside Germany. It is one of 330 foreign companies operating in South Carolina.

Bush shared the makeshift stage with seven workers, two of whom were from Spartanburg Steel Products, a key BMW supplier. The steel company is a direct beneficiary of the president’s efforts to “open markets,” according to White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

Most of the BMW workers who spoke had left jobs in older manufacturing industries and received training either before or after landing jobs with BMW. That provided Bush the opportunity to tout his job-training initiatives.

“There are ample opportunities to find job-training programs that will help train you for jobs which actually exist -- and that’s a very important concept,” the president told the 400 workers in the audience. “There are jobs available.”

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The president also worked some fund-raising into his day Monday, pulling in $500,000 for his reelection campaign during a luncheon appearance in Little Rock, Ark., and $1.6 million at a reception later in the day in nearby Spartanburg, S.C.

Bush, like Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean, plans to forgo federal matching funds during the primary campaign. By declining the public subsidy, which comes with stringent spending limits, the two candidates are relying entirely on private donations. That frees both men to spend as much as they can raise.

Dean’s decision over the weekend may prompt Bush to seek an even greater sum than his target of $170 million, some analysts believe. The president’s campaign has raised at least $90 million so far.


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