KANSAS CITY, Mo. — President Bush's chief spokesman said Monday that the United States is "in the middle of an economic downturn" that requires Bush's prescription of tax cuts and budget tightening.
Ari Fleischer offered the assessment as Bush launched a two-day, three-state trip to promote his budget and tax plan.
"He's going to assess where the economy is and why his plan is the best plan to help the economy recover," Fleischer said.
Bush has spoken in ominous terms about the economy since his election, but the rhetoric has picked up as his economic plan made his way through Congress. Earlier this month, Bush said the economy was "sputtering."
Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate, wants an immediate $300 tax refund for every worker in America to stimulate the economy.
The Connecticut senator says the quick tax cut, which he estimates would cost about $60 billion, should be enacted without regard to any long-term tax reduction.
"If we try to work that out, it will be next year before we get any money back to people," Lieberman said on "Fox News Sunday." "Let's cut checks and send what comes to $300 to every one of the almost 200 million taxpayers."
Lieberman noted that the tax cut proposed by Bush would offer little to taxpayers this year — only about $5.6 billion, in fact.
Fleischer, offering a new formulation, said "the president knows we're in the middle of an economic downturn, but he has faith that the long term strength of the economy is solid."
Several Democratic politicians will be joining Bush at various stages of the trip, including Rep. Karen McCarthy of Mo., Rep. Dennis Moore of Kan., and Sen. Max Baucus of Mo.
In Kansas City, Bush scheduled an address to employees at Bajan Industries, an enterprise that does light manufacturing and assembly work. The company has found jobs for 15 former welfare recipients.
In Billings, Mont., later Monday, Bush was to meet with agriculture producers at Tractor Supply Co., then speak to an audience at the MetraPark Expo and Convention Center.
Bush's policy speech Tuesday at Western Michigan University is sponsored by the Southwest Michigan First Coalition and the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce.
That's just part of a week in which the president also welcomes King Juan Carlos of Spain to the White House and meets separately with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
Also on Bush's schedule is a White House meeting with leaders of the high-tech industry, a talk to a delegation of black leaders, a photo with members of the Baseball Hall of Fame and a speech to the annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association.
Bush plans to take most of the weekend off, spending time at the Camp David retreat in western Maryland.