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Bush makes his domestic case, one city at a time

Times Staff Writer

President Bush flew here Thursday, walked through a sweltering commercial bakery and watched ovens turn dough balls into buns -- all to deliver this anti-tax message:

“You can’t keep making buns if the Democrats take all your dough.”

Bush spoke to a Chamber of Commerce audience at Opryland after touring the Nashville Bun Co. The visit allowed him to draw attention to a company that started 11 years ago with $587, took advantage of reduced taxes and grew into a multimillion-dollar business that turns out millions of English muffins and hamburger rolls every year for McDonald’s, Pepperidge Farms and others.

In short, it was the embodiment of Bush’s theory that tax cuts and small business are an engine for growth.

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Not to be outdone by the president’s metaphor, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said in a written statement:

“When it comes to spending the people’s dough -- taxpayer money -- this president baked this cake,” and he is leaving a legacy of “deficit and debt.”

Bush’s tour followed a midyear report last week from the White House Office of Management and Budget that forecast the 2007 budget deficit would drop to $205 billion. It was $248 billion last year and hit a high of $413 billion in 2004. Still, it represents a sharp departure from the surplus that greeted Bush when he took office but was eliminated by a brief recession, tax cuts and the cost of the Iraq war.

The trip reflected the president’s effort to make short visits not far from Washington, as well as schedule daily activities in the capital area to highlight elements of his presidency apart from the Iraq war.

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On Wednesday, that meant a short drive to a Maryland suburb to talk about healthcare at a high-tech company, and last week to Cleveland for another healthcare event and a question-and-answer session.

Such visits draw little national attention, but the out-of-town stops gain extensive local coverage sought by the White House to counter the steady beat of the Iraq war on news pages, websites, television and radio. And they provide a backdrop of a White House seeking, city by city, to portray the president as focused on the breadth of his job and not just the war.

Using colorful graphs projected on large screens as he spoke to about 400 people here, Bush argued that the Democrats’ higher spending plans, presented in red, would add “billions of dollars in new spending,” before adding, “I’m not bashing anybody.”

“You can’t pay for the red lines unless you are willing to raise taxes on the American people,” he said. He pointed out that his budget projections anticipate a surplus by 2012, “if we have fiscal sanity in Washington, D.C.”

Continuing the slide show, he said, “here’s my view of what we ought to do on taxes.” The screen displayed a blank chart.

The president’s presentation set the stage for the brewing budget battles with Congress as the House and Senate work on spending measures for fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1.

He asked Congress to deliver the bills “as quickly as possible,” and said, “If they overspend or if they try to raise your taxes, I’m going to veto their bills.”

The arrival of a Democratic majority has changed the dynamics after Republicans led Congress for the first six years of the Bush presidency -- a period in which he was criticized for allowing the deficit to balloon.

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During the hourlong question-and-answer session that followed his 20-minute speech, Bush frequently turned the questions into platforms for his economic message. A question about small business prompted a 12-minute discourse on the president’s healthcare proposals, his opposition to plans to expand children’s health programs and his prescriptions for solving the nation’s energy problems. Bush acknowledged he had been “obviously, a little long-winded.”

A question about royalties for the music industry, an important topic in Nashville, brought a blunt response from Bush: “Help. Maybe you’ve never had a president say this -- I have, like, no earthly idea what you’re talking about.... I’m totally out of my lane. I like listening to country music, if that helps.”

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james.gerstenzang@latimes.com


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