Reporting from Washington -- Former President George W. Bush doesn’t miss being in office, and he wishes the “Bush tax cuts” of the early 2000s didn’t carry his name — at least that’s according to a series of quips made by Bush during a rare public appearance on Tuesday.
Bush, who has stayed out of the spotlight in his post-presidential years, was addressing the Tax Policies for Growth conference, an event dedicated to discussing a Bush Institute project to promote policies aimed at achieving sustainable annual growth of 4%. That goal is the topic of a new book published by the institute.
“It’s got to be a staggering thing for some of the cynics up here; I publish a book, and now the Bush Institute’s publishing a book,” he said. “They didn’t think I could read, much less write a book.”
In his 15-minute opening speech to the gathering of prominent conservative politicians and economists, Bush pushed heavily for a pro-growth economic strategy.
“Much of the political debate — and I guess rightly so — is about our balance sheet,” he said. “That makes sense. I mean, when you look at the debt to GDP, it’s pretty high.”
Yet he made no mention of the country’s ongoing economic troubles that began during his presidency. Instead of discussing cutting federal spending — a priority currently among Republicans in Washington — Bush repeated the economic philosophy that dominated his years in office.
“We believe that in order to solve the balance sheet, first and foremost, you’ve got to grow the private sector,” he said. “And therefore, the focus ought to be on private-sector growth. And that private-sector growth will yield increased revenues, [as] the pie grows the debt relative to the pie shrinks, and with fiscal discipline you can better resolve your current account deficits and your entitlements.”
Warning that “if you raise taxes on the so-called rich, you’re really raising taxes on the job creators,” Bush joked about the tax breaks that were enacted under his administration.
“I wish they weren’t called the Bush tax cuts,” he said. “If they were called some-other-body’s tax cuts, they’re probably less likely to be raised. But if you raise taxes, you’re taking money out of the pockets of consumers.”
Perhaps coincidentally, the quip came just hours before President Obama was to make a major speech promoting his “Buffett rule” proposal to raise taxes on the mega-rich.
“I don’t think it’s good, frankly, for our country, to undermine our president, and I don’t intend to do so,” Bush said.
He said the Bush Institute is “an opportunity to be engaged in public policy in a positive way.”
“When you get out of office, it’s kind of a daunting feeling. I mean, you serve, you’ve given it your all, and all of a sudden, you’ve got some years ahead of you,” he said. “And I have decided to stay out of the limelight.”
Bush said he is asked often if he misses the presidency.
“Really, I really don’t. I mean, I enjoyed it. It was an unbelievably interesting experience ….Yeah, it was inconvenient to have to stop at some stop signs — stop lights here coming over here,” he joked.
“But I do miss being commander in chief,” he said. “A lot.”
To keep contact with the troops, Bush said he hosts mountain biking and golf outings for veterans.
“You know, I love to mountain bike ride,” he said. “What I don’t like to do is be beaten on a mountain bike ride by a one-legged veteran, but it’s likely to happen.”