In the midst of dealing with military action abroad and an anthrax crisis at home, President Bush paid a brief visit to suburban Baltimore yesterday, telling employees at a small packaging company that he wants Congress to act fast to cure the nation's economic woes.
"Make no mistake about it - Sept. 11 affected economic growth," Bush said, standing amid piles of boxes at the Dixie Printing & Packaging Corp. in Glen Burnie.
"The terrorists wanted our economy to stop. It hasn't," the president said. "They wanted to diminish the spirit of America. It didn't. They thought the government wouldn't be able to react. The government is going to react with an economic stimulus package that is good for workers."
Bush highlighted a proposal that he introduced this month but that stalled in Congress: a fresh round of tax cuts that he says would kick-start the economy by giving individuals and businesses more money to spend and invest.
The plan, the president said, would help companies such as Dixie - which produces multicolored boxes for large corporations and has annual revenue of about $17 million - by allowing them to hire more workers and write off expenses more quickly.
Bush has said he wants no more than $75 billion in new tax relief. But he said he supported the economic stimulus package approved by the House, just hours after his Glen Burnie appearance, that would slash taxes by $100 billion.
Aides said that while the president favors a smaller package, he wants both houses of Congress to swiftly push through legislation so they can begin working through the differences. Senate Democrats favor a stimulus plan that relies less on tax cuts and more on new spending.
In his hourlong visit to Dixie, Bush acknowledged that it might seem odd for a president to leave Washington to promote a tax cut when many Americans feel gripped by grave threats to their security.
"Some might ask why, in the midst of war, I would come to Dixie Printing," Bush said. "They say, 'Here you are conducting a campaign against terrorists, and you take time to come to a small business.'
"And the answer is, because we fight the war on two fronts. We fight a war at home. And part of the war we fight is to make sure that our economy continues to grow."
Speaking to about 60 employees, many of them dressed in navy blue factory uniforms, and to about 40 owners of other small businesses, the president also said he wanted to spend time seeing the faces of real Americans.
"My attitude is that how the Dixie Printings behave and how the workers behave here and how the citizens of Maryland behave are incredibly important," he said. "How you respond to these attacks are incredibly important, not only to help win the war today, but to set the example for future generations of Americans."
Bush has largely curtailed his travel since the terrorist attacks, and the White House announced yesterday that he would not appear tonight at an event he had been expected to attend. Vice President Dick Cheney will instead headline the Republican Governor's Association fund-raiser, which had been billed as "An Evening with President Bush."
Accelerated relief sought
At Dixie, the president repeated an argument he had made in the White House Rose Garden on Oct. 5, when he outlined his plan to re-ignite the ailing economy. He noted yesterday that Congress has approved about $60 billion in emergency spending to help the nation recover from the terrorist attacks, and said the remainder of any stimulus package should be in the form of tax relief.
Bush said he wants to accelerate the income-tax rate cuts from his earlier $1.35 trillion tax cut. And he called for a proposal, which has support from Democrats, to offer tax rebates to those who were left out of the first round of tax refunds because they earn too little money to pay income taxes.
Members of both parties in Congress have said they want further refunds in the hands of taxpayers by December, and the president said yesterday that "we want you to have more money to spend, particularly as we head into the Christmas season."
Internal Revenue Service officials have said, though, that it might be logistically impossible to process new rebates until spring at the earliest.
Whenever the tax relief comes, Bush said yesterday in his folksy Texas accent, "there's nothin' like boosting confidence than a little extra money in the pocket."
Bush said his package, which is similar to the bill passed by the House yesterday, would give a boost to small businesses and encourage them to invest more by allowing them to deduct business expenses faster and by eliminating the alternative minimum tax.
Dixie's president, A. Newth Morris III, said his company is forced to pay $167,000 annually because of the AMT, a quirk in the tax code that is a frequent target of complaints from businesses.
Shortly after taking office, Bush often stopped at small companies or in small towns around the nation to promote his broad tax cut, and many of those visits resembled campaign stops. Yesterday, with much of the public on edge, Bush pushed for tax relief using none of the fist-pumping exuberance of those trips, instead seeming relaxed and conversational.
Surrounded by stacks of boxes used to package anything from hand lotion to Barbie dolls, Bush talked to the employees about life since Sept. 11.
"We've had oceans which have protected us over our history," he said. "Except for Pearl Harbor, we've never really been hit before. And yet on Sept. 11, this great land came under attack. And it's still under attack as we speak."
Trounced in Maryland by Al Gore in the November election - and greeted with a lukewarm reception when he visited Johns Hopkins Hospital in July - Bush received a rousing welcome to the Baltimore area yesterday, with the nation on a war footing and polls showing his approval ratings hovering around 90 percent.
As Bush's motorcade raced from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to the Dixie plant, hundreds of observers stood outside restaurants and stores cheering. Students at Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School in Anne Arundel County stood outside in their uniforms, shouting and waiving American flags.
Security was intense as the president ventured 35 miles from the White House. In one briefly alarming incident, police arrested a man who tried to drive into the Dixie complex with a handgun in his truck. The man, Glenn Brumell, 20, of Pasadena, who told police that he had used the weapon the night before while target shooting, was charged with transporting a handgun in a vehicle on a public road.
Attacks 'will not stand'
At Dixie, just before the president spoke, Calvin Trogdon, who has worked at the company for 34 years, said he wanted to hear a message of healing from Bush.
"I hope he tells us things will get better," Trogdon said.
In his speech, the president told Trogdon and other employees that he has no "direct evidence" that the anthrax deaths that are frightening many Americans are connected to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and Washington.
"But there are some links," Bush said. "Both series of actions are motivated by evil and hate. Both series of actions are meant to disrupt Americans' way of life. Both series of actions are an attack on our homeland. And both series of actions will not stand."
Sun staff writers Kristine Henry, Laura Barnhardt and Rona Kobell contributed to this article.