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Bush Touts His Economics

Times Staff Writer

Even as he continued to grapple with ongoing Middle East violence, President Bush on Monday used a visit to South Florida to focus attention on his domestic agenda, touting free trade, low taxes and his vision for new immigration laws as cornerstones of a strong economy.

“One of the jobs of government is to put policy in place that encourages the entrepreneurial spirit to flourish,” Bush said on the Miami Beach waterfront, talking up his program to bolster economic growth.

That message, prominent recently, has taken on new urgency for the White House as economic growth slows, and high gas prices continue to sap public satisfaction with Bush’s management of the economy.

And it comes less than 100 days before congressional elections that Democrats hope will catapult them into power on Capitol Hill.

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Bush did not mention the elections -- but as he spoke in front of a mammoth cargo ship about free trade creating jobs, he sounded every bit the political campaigner.

“I’m worried about protectionist tendencies in the United States,” Bush said, lauding the growth of trade with Mexico and Chile that has followed agreements with those countries.

Bush pledged to continue working toward a new global trade agreement after negotiations broke down last week over agricultural production.

The president also touted tax cuts that he said had helped entrepreneurs start new businesses. And he strongly advocated an immigration-law overhaul that would strengthen border security while providing opportunities for some illegal immigrants to become citizens.

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“Rational immigration policy is possible,” Bush said, praising the contributions of Cuban and Haitian immigrants in South Florida.

Immigration legislation remains stalled in Congress. House Republicans insist that any overhaul be limited to toughening border security and penalties, but Bush and many senators want it to include guest worker and citizenship provisions as well.

The policies outlined by the president Monday hewed to a script he has relied on for months and, in some cases, years. But with his party in a fight to retain control of Congress this fall, Bush is also attempting to recover some of his popularity by paying longer visits to cities across the country and promoting his economic initiatives.

In the president’s first such visit, to Chicago early last month, he met with business leaders and toured an electronics plant west of the city.

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Miami, with its relatively low unemployment and a busy port, offered the president a good-news story to discuss, as well as an opportunity to visit with his brother Jeb, the Florida governor.

The president ate at several local institutions and met with community and business leaders Sunday and Monday. He also attended a luncheon fundraiser for the Republican National Committee.

The trip to Miami also gave the White House a chance to talk about its preparations for this year’s hurricane season. Bush visited the National Hurricane Center on Monday morning, and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, R. David Paulison, outlined efforts to solve problems that plagued the federal response to Hurricane Katrina last year.

It remains unclear whether the tours, speeches and meals at local landmarks will restore the president’s standing among most Americans.

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The economy is still growing, but at a slower rate than earlier this year, and dissatisfaction with Bush’s leadership is still widespread. In a recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll, 39% of respondents said they approved of Bush’s handling of the economy, a proportion virtually unchanged from the beginning of the year.


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