Analysis: White House economic forum showcases Bush’s fiscal plans

? An economy with blue skies, happy workers and prosperity for all, just around the corner.

That’s the sunny picture painted Wednesday at President Bush’s economic conference, where nary a discouraging word was uttered and Bush’s second-term priorities were resoundingly praised. In reality, Bush will have a hard time getting his major proposals through a skeptical Congress.

Bush’s plans to overhaul the tax code and Social Security and to limit lawsuit liability awards are generating stiff opposition, even among some groups that supported his earlier economic endeavors.

On the opening day of Bush’s choreographed two-day economic conference, moderators sang praises to his second-term agenda.

Vice President Dick Cheney: “If we stay on that path, the years ahead will bring even greater progress and prosperity.”

Treasury Secretary John Snow: “We are the envy of the world.”

“It’s not exactly ‘Crossfire,”‘ joked American University political scientist Alan Lichtman.

Lichtman said the administration was clearly using the forum to pitch the president’s program, not gather new ideas.

The forum kicked off an intense White House public relations effort to win public support.

Bush’s proposal to let younger workers invest some of their Social Security withholdings in the stock market has drawn substantial opposition. Proponents say such a system promises higher long-term returns, allowing the government to spend less. But opponents say it could leave retirees holding the bag in times of prolonged market downturns.

“This is not a recipe for strengthening the system,” said Henry J. Aaron, an economic analyst at the Brookings Institution, not among those invited to the forum.

Bush’s still-undefined tax restructuring has drawn fire from powerful interest groups. The National Retail Federation opposes any overhaul that moves in the direction of a national sales tax. Other grops are seeking cuts.

The Tax Relief Coalition, which supported the president’s earlier tax cuts, has been noncommittal.