Kansas City, Mo. — Under fire for the enduring recession, President Bush on Thursday said the ailing economy was on the mend thanks to his tax cuts.
"Tax relief is putting this nation on the path to prosperity," Bush said in a 40-minute speech devoted almost entirely to the economy.
Talking to more than 2,000 people in the Music Hall at Municipal Auditorium, Bush called on Congress to make the tax cuts permanent. Many of the reductions are scheduled to expire during the next several years.
"When we threw out the old taxes, Americans didn't expect to see them sneaking in through the back door. For the sake of economic growth, for the sake of job creation, the United States Congress must make these tax cuts permanent," he said.
Tax cuts criticized
But Bush has been sharply criticized for his handling of the economy.
The nation's unemployment rate stands at 6.2 percent, more than 2 million jobs have been lost since Bush took office, and he has presided over the longest period without job growth since World War II.
David Burress, a research economist at Kansas University Policy Research Institute, said Bush's fiscal policies have hurt the nation.
On the tax cuts, Burress said, "All of the benefits have gone to the very rich. Poor people and the middle class have been left holding the bag to pay for the debt," he said.
"The jury is still out" on whether the economy is improving, Burress said.
"We haven't seen the job uptick. This is a seriously bad recession in terms of jobs," said Burress, who serves on the economic advisory board of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, which helped coordinate the president's visit.
Outside Municipal Auditorium, several hundred protesters blasted Bush for the economy, war in Iraq and corporate scandals.
Danny McGuire, a 19-year-old Kansas City, Mo., student and volunteer who helps the poor, wore a sports jacket and tie and carried a sign, "New War Tax -- $70 billion."
"I'm very concerned about the course the country is taking," McGuire said. "The money we are spending on this war could be better spent on social programs."
But inside the event, the mostly Republican crowd gave Bush thundering applause and several standing ovations.
"From an economic point of view, I thought his speech was sound and educational, and his Harvard MBA shows," said Paul Finney, an acupuncturist from Humboldt, Kan.
Finney said he believed the economy was improving. A telecommunications businessman Finney knows was about to lay off employees two months ago, Finney said, but now the businessman's technicians are so busy they can't keep up with the workload.
Bush wants Congress to act
Aside from the tax cuts, Bush outlined a plan that he said would create jobs, though many of the proposals have been stalled in Congress.
Bush said he wanted approval of personal re-employment accounts that would enable states to provide $3,000 to individuals to purchase special job training or pay for other expenses to find a job.
He also said he wanted an end to "frivolous lawsuits," which he blamed for the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance and health-care costs, and he wants to institute a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages in malpractice lawsuits.
He also called on Congress to pass an energy policy to upgrade the nation's electrical grid system and prevent a reoccurrence of the Aug. 14 blackout in the northeastern United States. Bush's energy program also includes drilling for oil on public lands, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
"America's economy today is showing signs of promise. We're emerging from a period of national challenge and economic uncertainty," Bush said.
Bush cited the recent opening of Nebraska Furniture Mart in Kansas City, Kan., as an example of growing consumer confidence in recent months.
He also refused to take any blame for the recession, saying it started because of an overheated stock market before he took office and the terrorist attack and subsequent war with Iraq. He added that recent corporate scandals also have caused consumers to lose confidence in the stock market.
Kansas State Rep. Rob Boyer, R-Olathe, agreed with Bush's assessment. "He has been forced to deal with the aftermath. He has done an admirable job," Boyer said.