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In Florida stop, Bush touts his tax cut policies as economic fix

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. -- President Bush wrapped up a two-day campaign swing through Florida yesterday at a window manufacturing plant outside Tampa, where during what the White House described as a discussion on the economy, he told audience members that calls to repeal tax cuts he pushed through Congress were essentially calls to raise taxes.

Each Democrat running for the party's presidential nomination has said he would repeal at least some of the Bush tax cuts that have been approved but which are set to expire in the next few years. Despite criticism from conservatives and liberals that they contribute to the growing budget deficit and crowd out funding for other priorities, Bush has repeatedly called for the tax cuts to be made permanent, saying they spur economic growth that leads to job creation.

"You hear people in Washington saying, `Oh, let's not make the tax cuts permanent,' " Bush told the audience. "When you hear somebody say that, they're saying: `We're going to tax you. We're going to raise your taxes.' You'll hear some discussion about what that means for a family when their taxes go up. But from an economic perspective, I'm telling you, now is not the time to raise the taxes on the American people."

Bush made the appearance on the heels of his trip to Daytona Beach the day before, when he opened the Daytona 500 race while the Republican Party worked to recruit voters among conservative NASCAR fans.

It is his 19th visit to the state where his brother Jeb is governor and where Democrats and Republicans alike expect to wage an all-out battle for the state's 27 electoral votes in the general election in November.

Bush did not confine his remarks at NuAir Manufacturing yesterday to the economy, ranging from subjects as varied as health care, energy policy, and the war in Iraq.

Several Republican legislators from the region were on hand to hear the president, but two prominent Democrats, Mayor Pam Iorio of Tampa and the local congressman, Jim Davis, were notable no-shows.

The state's most prominent Democrat, US Senator Bob Graham, told reporters in a conference call that the Tampa Bay area has lost 4,675 manufacturing jobs since Bush took office and that the president's tax cuts are bad policy.

"They have ballooned the deficit and not contributed to any new job creation," Graham said.

Bush stuck to the optimistic tone that has highlighted his remarks on the economy. The conversation yesterday was mostly one-way, with Bush speaking extensively about the benefits of his policies as local businessmen and NuAir employees, even its president, Connie Horner, sat on stools and listened.

When they did get an opportunity to speak, they explained how they made use of the tax cuts Bush pushed through Congress.

"Mr. President, we have to keep this tax cut," said Sam Leto, board chairman for Tampa Brass and Aluminum Corp.

"Thank you, sir," Bush said. "I agree. Good job, Sam."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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