President Bush says "doing nothing" about the economy is better than raising taxes, and he is prepared to do just that unless Democrats quit trying to raise the bite on wealthy Americans.
Bush, after a truculent veto Friday of the recovery bill fashioned by Congress, said Sunday he still wants the lawmakers to move on his proposals to spur business investment.White House Chief of Staff Samuel H. Skinner said flatly earlier Sunday "there's not going to be a package" if the Democrats insist on raising taxes.
Bush said, "I'm perfectly prepared to work with the Congress. But we've got to be realistic about politics."
"The best thing would be to do something that would stimulate investment, but if that can't happen, then the next choice would be do nothing, and the worst choice would be to pass a tax and spend bill," the president said at an East Room news conference with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Bill Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, quickly seized on Bush's comments.
Holding up a newspaper with Bush's "do nothing" quotation, Clinton told reporters during a campaign stop today in Groton, Conn.: "In his own two words, George Bush has stated the big difference between his approach and mine. This is going to be a campaign of `Do-something' versus `Do-nothing."'
At the White House news conference, Kohl said he did not mean to interfere in the U.S. election, but he warned Americans they will "pay very dearly" if they forget that a people's destiny is "decided on the foreign policy front."
Citing the tide of democracy that has swept Europe and the former Soviet Union, Kohl said, "Had President George Bush not proved to be such a strong leader over these past years, obviously these dramatic changes would not have taken place in the world."
Bush, battered in the polls and ensnared in the most bitter battle of his presidency with Congress, said, "I am convinced that foreign policy and world peace is going to be a major issue in the fall. The debate has not been joined on that."
Skinner, appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," took a slap at Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
"You're talking about being governor of a state that's ranked 50th in the nation in many categories," Skinner said. Arkansas "really hasn't made . . . progress under his leadership."
Bush spent the weekend at Camp David with Kohl. Both agreed to push for completion of a new global trade agreement "at the very latest by the end of April," the chancellor said.
The talks to lower trade barriers have been stalled by the European Community's resistance to scaling back subsidies for its farmers.
Kohl said a new General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is "of paramount importance for the world economy. We have to prevent at all costs a fall back into a policy of protectionism."
He refused to divulge details of his talks with Bush, but said he would report back to European leaders. Alluding to the agricultural dispute, Kohl said, "Obviously, when we talk about compromise, it means both sides have to move."
The German leader wants the trade talks resolved well ahead of the economic summit he hosts in Munich in July with leaders of the world's seven wealthiest industrialized democracies.