Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The former majority leader of the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives said Friday he welcomes attempts by President Bush's opponents to steer public debate toward the issue of the economy.
Dick Armey, who recently retired from the House after representing a Texas district for nine terms, the last four as Republican majority leader, said the attempt by Democrats to distract attention from the public approval of President Bush's handling of the war on terrorism will backfire.
House and Senate Democrats held press conferences and wrote editorials throughout the week criticizing the president's $674 billion economic stimulus plan.
"It is a fiscally irresponsible, ineffective, ideologically driven wish list that is oblivious to the problems our faltering economy is facing, one that looks far more like a sugar-coated political placebo than a real policy prescription to cure what ails America's economy," wrote Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), one of a half-dozen Democrats competing to take on Bush in the 2004 presidential elections, Sunday.
"If I were talking to the White House today, I'd say, 'Go ahead and change the subject. Make my day,'" said Armey, the new co-chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). "Because if you turn the discourse to the president's economic plan, the president will gain ground on his opponents."
Armey believes that as more details of the president's plan are revealed to the public, support for the proposal will increase.
"It finally comes down to what I've always said," Armey told reporters during a telephone conference call Friday, "Republicans always prosper when the public does understand, Democrats always prosper when the public doesn't understand.."
Results of a poll taken by the Tarrance Group for CSE support Armey's contention.Open Tarrance Group Power Point Presentation
"We asked two questions - support for the economic plan and the president's job approval - both at the beginning of the survey and after a series of fact questions," explained Ed Goeas with the Tarrance Group.
"With only 59 percent hearing something about [the president's plan], of those voters 42 percent approved, 39 percent disapproved," he continued. "After running through the 12 fact points, it moved to 68-27."
From Jan. 13-15, pollsters asked 1,000 registered voters, 26 questions, including whether they would be more or less likely to support the Bush plan based on information about its 12 major components:
"The tax cuts passed by Congress last year would be made effective immediately, and the amount withheld from a taxpayer's paycheck would be decreased right away, meaning higher take home pay for workers this year." 74 percent favored, 3 percent opposed, 22 percent had never heard of this element.
"The marriage penalty tax would be eliminated now, instead of the year 2009, lowering taxes for millions of married couples." 77 percent favored, 4 percent opposed, 15 percent had never heard of this element.
"The child tax credit would be increased to $1,000 per child; this means a person would get $400 more in tax relief, per child, this year." 80 percent favored, 3 percent opposed, 14 percent had never heard of this element.
"This year, millions of working people would be moved into the lowest tax bracket of 10% in order to help lower income families get a solid start to economic freedom." 75 percent favored, 6 percent opposed, 18 percent had never heard of this element.
"Under President Bush's economic plan, the top one percent of wage earners would pay a greater share of the income tax burden than what they pay now." 60 percent favored, 7 percent opposed, 30 percent had never heard of this element.
"The tax deduction for small businesses to purchase equipment would be increased from $25,000 to $75,000." 71 percent favored, 3 percent opposed, 23 percent had never heard of this element.
"The plan would eliminate the double taxation of dividends for stockholders. This means that dividend payments made to individuals would not be counted as taxable income." 62 percent favored, 4 percent opposed, 32 percent had never heard of this element.
"With the new plan, seniors would get over half the tax relief resulting from the elimination of the taxation on dividends." 75 percent favored, 5 percent opposed, 19 percent had never heard of this element.
"In addition to tax relief, President Bush's economic plan also calls for unemployment benefits to be extended to help those Americans who have been recently unemployed." 81 percent favored, 2 percent opposed, 15 percent had never heard of this element.
"In addition to regular unemployment benefits, a new Personal Re-employment Account system would be set up to provide resources to help displaced workers find a job more quickly." 83 percent favored, 3 percent opposed, 13 percent had never heard of this element.
"With the new Personal Re-employment Accounts, unemployed Americans who find a job within 13 weeks or less would be able to keep any leftover money in their re-employment account as a bonus. This encourages people to find work more quickly." 72 percent favored, 4 percent opposed, 22 percent had never heard of this element.
"Please tell me if hearing this information would make you more likely or less likely to support the President's economic plan. The President's economic plan takes a significant step towards fundamental tax reform, by making the tax code simpler, fairer and flatter." 76 percent more likely, 19 percent less likely.
Goeas stressed that the Tarrance Group was careful in constructing the survey not to lead respondents toward predetermined conclusions.
"These were clearly not 'push' questions that you may have seen in other types of surveys," he said noting the second half of the statement on the $1,000 child tax credit.
While the statement would have been technically accurate without including the fact that taxpayers making less than a certain amount would only receive an additional $400 per child in 2003, Goeas felt it would be misleading not to include the additional information.
Economists Weigh In
The National Taxpayers Union organized a group of 111 economists, who signed a letter to Congress Friday encouraging members to adopt the key elements of the Bush plan.
"As a rule, government cannot create wealth or expand the economy," the signatories concluded. "Government can, however, hinder economic growth through excessive taxes, high marginal tax rates, over-regulation, or unnecessary spending. Accordingly, elected leaders should be working to adopt measures that curb or halt government policies that are hurting the economy."
Goeas said his telephone survey results match the opinions he has received in person from focus groups around the nation over the past five days.
"Clearly [the president] has a good plan here that, if communicated to the American public, will be very successful and very well received," the pollster said.
Democrats continued picking the plan apart throughout the week, attacking even the most popular of its provisions. Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) criticized the proposed $1,000 per child tax credit and efforts to make previously passed income tax cuts immediately effective.
"Combine those two tax proposals, the 2001 and the 2003, that's $144,600 average tax cut per year to the wealthiest one percent of the people in this country," Dayton said earlier in the week.
As the survey noted, those individuals would actually pay a larger share of the income tax burden than they currently pay, according to Goeas.
"If we get the facts out, the results are extremely positive," he concluded. "But if we allow this to denigrate into class warfare, which is what we have seen from the Democrats over recent weeks ... then we're dealing with a whole different [situation]."
Armey said overcoming Democrats' attempts to paint the plan as a gift to "the rich" will be the key to gaining public support.
"When Americans - at all income levels, whether they be investors or not - know what is, in fact, in this plan, they like it," Armey theorized. "The only way you can defeat this plan, in terms of the understanding of the American people, is to misrepresent it."
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