Farmington, Pa. President Bush said he got a cordial hearing from skeptical Democratic lawmakers Sunday, but he will have to wait to gauge his success in convincing any of them to support his proposals for tax cuts.
"I think they listened," Bush said as he left the two-hour session. "I have no idea until the votes come. They were very cordial. These are professionals who want to serve their nation."
The centerpiece of the Bush agenda is his proposed 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut, which he plans to submit to Congress on Thursday.
Bush says the tax cut is necessary to stave off a recession, and many Democrats agree, though some believe a smaller cut of less than $1 trillion over 10 years is in order.
"He worked the room well, but there are serious policy differences be-tween him and a lot of House Democrats," Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, the No. 3 person in the Democratic leadership, said after Bush left.
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said the president spoke for about eight minutes and spent the rest of the time responding to questions and moving around the room to shake hands. The meeting was closed to the press. Approximately 300 people attended, about half of them Democratic House members. They gave him a 30-second standing ovation at the beginning, a Democratic aide said.
"Hopefully we can exceed expectations," Bush told the Democrats, the spokesman said. "The expectation is, because of the closeness of the election, nothing will get done."
Echoing previous remarks to lawmakers, the spokesman said Bush told Democrats he was concerned about national debt but also about consumer debt, which he said tax cuts could help alleviate.
Upon his arrival back at the White House, Bush said he had a "good discussion" with the House Democrats.
"People, I think, recognize that we are going to have tax relief," Bush said. "The fundamental question is how big and when."
McClellan said the Democrats questioned Bush on a wide range of issues, including his tax plan, abortion and election reform.
McClellan characterized the tone of the questions as "respectful" and said "there was a commitment on both sides to work together."
The president planned to devote much of his energy this week to building public support for the tax reductions. Today, he was bringing to the White House four families who would benefit from his proposed tax reductions, because they would fall into lower tax brackets.