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Public unmoved by promise of cash

The Baltimore Sun


That was Kevin Keenan's succinct prediction of the likely effect of President Bush's proposal to give rebates to taxpayers, part of a $145 billion economic stimulus plan announced yesterday.

"I'm spiritually prepared for a recession, and this isn't going to make a difference," Keenan, a medical researcher, said as he entered a coffee shop, just a couple of miles from a lawnmower manufacturing plant that Bush was visiting.

"I'll adjust with the flow," Keenan, from Doylestown, Pa., added by way of explaining his recession plans. "The pain and suffering will continue, but I'll keep a stiff upper lip."

Keenan's was one of the less optimistic assessments in an informal survey of reactions to Bush's call for what could amount to $800 for individuals and $1,600 for households, as well as incentives for businesses in an effort to spur the economy. Bush was initially scheduled to announce his proposal during his visit to the Frederick plant, Wright Manufacturing Inc., but unveiled it instead at the White House before embarking on the brief trip.

At the other end of the spectrum from Keenan, an ebullient Jana Kinder said that if a rebate arrived in the mail, "I'd pay off Christmas!"

Kinder, a saleswoman at Washington Valve and Fitting Co., just up the street from the Wright plant, stood in a parking lot with several other women, hoping to catch a glimpse of the president. Kinder had drawn up a batch of signs that, when held in a row by the foursome, spelled out, "We Love You Bush!"

This group of Bush fans did not fault him for the economy's precarious condition.

"The economy is always going up and down. It'll bounce back up," said Stephanie May, her fingers white with cold as she clutched the banner bearing the word "Love." May, another of Washington Valve's sales people, said she had no idea what she might do with Bush's rebate, but Cheri Thompson did.

"I'd go back into the market," said Thompson, a fellow sign-holder, who works at a Starbucks in nearby Walkersville. "I'd buy some stocks, because it's so low right now. I'd buy stock and put it in my son's college fund."

In another parking lot, across Wedgewood Boulevard, Phil Gibson sat at the wheel of a truck he drives for a living and was surprised that Bush intended to distribute more cash to the populace.

"Again?" Gibson asked, referring to a previous rebate, in 2001, which he said had been made possible by the surplus Bush inherited from President Bill Clinton. "I guarantee people will go out and buy something, probably something they couldn't afford before."

Gibson, who works for Sunbelt Rentals, said he plans to start his own landscaping business soon, using a tractor and other equipment he inherited from his father. Any money he receives from the government will go toward that.

"You've got to get into a business that's recession-proof," said Gibson, 40. "I won't have any overhead, and the grass don't stop growing."

Blaine Ferrell, who had stopped for lunch at a Chinese fast-food restaurant, wondered where Bush "is getting all this money from."

"I know that if I got $800 right now, I'd probably spend it on my car," said Ferrell, 19, a technician at Pep Boys and part-time student at Frederick Community College. He owns a '95 Camaro, which "needs a new clutch."

At the coffee shop next door, Christine Shipe was cradling her 4-month-old daughter, Samantha, while chatting with a friend. "I'd spend it," she said of the proposed rebate. "I'm not good at saving - but don't tell my husband."

Either way, Shipe said, this might not be a good time for the government to be doling out rebates, especially considering the huge cost of the Iraq war and the ballooning trade deficit.

"I'm all for getting money back," she said, "but it could probably be put to better use."

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