President Bush suggested Thursday the across-the-board tax cut he called for last month would be about 1 percent, calling himself the candidate who wants "to spend less and tax less" even as the White House backed away from his fresh no-new-taxes pledge.
Bush, arriving in Detroit for what aides billed as a major address on the economy, issued an "agenda for American renewal" that wrapped up his previous revitalization proposals and a handful of new items.In it, he said:
- If Congress will follow through on $132 billion in spending cuts that he has proposed, "these savings alone could finance an across-the-board rate cut of 1 percent, a reduction of the small-business tax rate from 15 percent to 10 percent . . . and a reduction of the capital gains tax."
- If Congress will cut its operating budget by one-third, he will cut the White House budget by the same amount.
- He will urge a 5 percent pay cut for all federal employees making more than $75,000 a year.
"In sum, my direction is clear, I want to spend less and tax less," Bush said, while "my opponent wants to spend more and tax more."
Bush's 29-page document came a few hours after his spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, said at the White House that the president's anti-tax declaration of a day earlier was not a promise to never raise taxes.
In a surprise statement, Bush on Wednesday appeared to renew his 1988 no-new-taxes pledge, which he broke in 1990. "I went along with one Democratic tax increase and I'm not going to do it again. Ever. Ever."
Fitzwater said Thursday, "It wasn't a pledge, no. He was saying, as he's said before, that he wouldn't make that mistake again." The "mistake" Fitzwater was referring to was Bush's agreement two years ago to raise taxes as part of a budget deficit-cutting deal with Congress.
Vice Presidential candidate Al Gore, campaigning in Kentucky, said, "Well it sounds to me as if Marlin Fitzwater has learned to be a lip reader. We are now greatly in debt to Mr. Fitzwater for interpreting the president's comments. Many Americans might have otherwise been fooled this close to election time into believing that the president actually meant what he said."
Detroit, site of Thursday's speech, was where Bush in 1980 became Ronald Reagan's running mate and renounced his earlier description of Reagan's supply-side beliefs as "voodoo economics."
There was new evidence Thursday of the economy's weakness as the Commerce Department reported that American businesses scaled back their plans to increase plant and equipment investment this year. The report reflected skepticism about the strength of the economic recovery.
Bush said in a campaign appearance Wednesday that the country had been through "economic hell." But he also asserted that "we're an economic superpower in spite of the lousiness of our economy."