Bush to tout ‘ownership society’

With signs that the economic recovery may be cooling, President Bush and his advisers have decided to refocus his campaign on proposals he will champion under the banner of an “ownership society,” said Republican strategists close to the White House.
Mr. Bush will begin touting economic incentives he wants to enact in a second term, including private Social Security investment accounts, the promotion of homeownership and perhaps further tax cuts, said Republican officials who have participated in White House strategy sessions.

“If you know anything about [Bush political adviser] Karl Rove’s strengths, one of them is a sense of timing. What you will see is a forthcoming vision for a second term,” said a key strategist who advises the White House on economic policy.

“I think you will see the increasing emergence of what those core objectives will be as you move toward the convention. There’s a little testing of these going on right now but in the weeks to come you are going to see a lot of stuff,” he said.

Earlier this week, the White House released a partial preview its campaign strategy in a “talking points” paper sent to supporters that was titled “America’s Ownership Society: Expanding Opportunities.”

It calls for further reforms in the tax code to lower income tax rates on businesses, and possibly a sweeping revenue-neutral overhaul of the tax code, to lower the rates.

“This president is known for big bold initiatives, and I would expect nothing less when it comes to a second-term agenda,” said Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

In an “Ask President Bush” campaign forum in Niceville, Fla., yesterday, Mr. Bush surprised his top advisers by saying that abolishing the federal income-tax system and replacing it with a national sales tax was “the kind of interesting idea that we ought to explore seriously.”

The idea of a national sales tax has never caught on politically, but Republican strategists close to the White House say that a revenue-neutral tax overall that would broaden the tax base and further lower the income-tax rates has been discussed in the president’s inner circle.

“You may see something major in that area of lower tax rates,” a Republican adviser to the White House said.

“I hear an awful lot about tax reform. But you would have to come up with a revenue-neutral plan at this juncture with the size of the deficit that we have,” said Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In 2000, Mr. Bush ran on partially privatizing Social Security, an idea that polls show is particularly popular with younger workers, but the issue was pushed aside after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

He renewed his call for retirement investment accounts in a campaign appearance Monday, with the White House releasing a statement that said he wants to let workers “build a nest egg for retirement that they would own and control and could pass on to their families.”

Mr. Bush’s decision to reopen the debate over partially privatizing the venerable New Deal-era program has especially cheered his tax-cutting supporters.

“Bush opened the door for Social Security reform in the 2000 election, he has continued to champion reform throughout his first term, and now he has made Social Security a predominant part of his re-election agenda,” said former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp.

Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, said, “The reason he should talk about Social Security reform is that he needs to have some kind of mandate to do it. If he doesn’t talk about it, it doesn’t happen.”