Bush Pushes Economy, Trade to Small Business Owners

President Bush spoke to small business owners this morning, touting the benefits of the economic stimulus package and using the opportunity to appeal to Congress to fix the tax code and pass free trade agreements.

He opened his speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Summit in Washington by taking a potshot at the IRS, joking that it was a good thing that the pope was in Washington this week -- the same week that most U.S. citizens must pay taxes -- because "it will take a miracle to keep the IRS out of your pocket."

Bush praised the nation's record 52 months of economic growth before the recent slowdown and said the new economic stimulus package will help small business owners, who create 70 percent of all new jobs in America.

"We're going to bounce back strong and the small businesses of America are going to lead the way," he said to a loud round of applause.

The stimulus plan "provides money to invest in new equipment [and small businesses should] use the money to expand their businesses and if someone's going to purchase equipment, someone's got to make it," he said, referring to the intended domino effect of the plan.

The tax rebates will be sent to 130 million American households beginning around the second week of May.

"It's going to take a while for the changes to reflect in our economy," he said, adding that his economic advisors said the effects of the stimulus plan should begin to be felt in July.

He then turned to the nation's Byzantine tax law, saying "what Congress has got to understand is that small business owners don't need uncertainty, which is in the tax code."

Bush reiterated a point made by Andrew Card, his former White House chief of staff who spoke earlier at the conference. "A lot of people in America may have forgotten what it was like before tax relief," the president said. Card had lamented a lack of debate between the presidential candidates on the impending expiration -- in 2010 and 2011 -- of the Bush administration tax cuts.

"Small business owners are going to bear a heavy burden if tax rates" are not kept down, Bush said. "Taxes on capital gains and dividends will go up and small business owners will face an average tax increase of more than $4,000 per year...that will stifle enterprise."

He also pushed for a free trade agreement with Colombia, saying that exports accounted for more than 40 percent of the nation's economic growth last year and that exporting provides a valuable opportunity in the face of a weak dollar.

There are "8,000 small and midsized firms that face substantial tariffs" when doing business with Colombia, he said, arguing that the free trade deal would eliminate those tariffs and "level the playing field" because almost all exports to the United States enter the country duty-free.

Steven Preston, the head of the Small Business Administration who traveled to Colombia with the president to promote the deal, said earlier this month that "nearly 8,000 of the more than 9,000 companies that export to Colombia are small and medium-sized, making this an important market for entrepreneurs."

Bush today chastised House leaders for blocking a vote on the deal, saying they made a "serious error" and calling them hypocritical because "Democrats are often the loudest voices for more diplomacy," he said.

The president also called for health care reform and urged Congress not to weaken the No Child Left Behind Act.

By Sharon McLoone |  April 18, 2008; 3:13 PM ET Policymakers
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