"I urge the senators when they cast their vote tomorrow to remember there's a lot of people in our country who are beginning to hurt. A lot of folks are paying higher energy bills. A lot of people have got consumer debt.
"I urge the senators to prioritize, but always remember that the [budget] surplus is not the federal government's money, the surplus is the people's money. And once we meet priorities, we ought to share it with the people," the president said during a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
"It's not only the right thing to do for our economy, it's the right choice to make to trust people with their own money. People of different parties – because I have discovered some in my own party – think we ought to spend more than I think we ought to do. Have smaller tax relief, but so far it seems like everybody has shown good will and good intentions," the president said.
Bush again stressed why Americans needed "significant" tax relief now.
"A Democratic Congress passed the Kennedy tax cut, even though there was a deficit, because the country needed it. A Republican Senate and Democratic House passed Ronald Reagan's tax relief even though there was a deficit, because the country needed it. Our country needs tax relief now, and we have a surplus.
"I don't think there's any excuse for providing real, meaningful tax relief. Our tax relief plan is smaller than President Kennedy's or President Reagan's. But it's just as urgently needed," the president said.
Bush's budget hit a significant snag Wednesday when the Senate voted for a Democratic amendment that would drain hundreds of billions of dollars from the $1.6 trillion tax cut Bush wants.
The Democratic amendment would shrink the tax cut by $450 billion, using the money for education programs and debt repayment instead of tax cuts.
"Yes, I'm worried," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, after the vote. "We think $1.6 trillion is the right tax cut" to get the economy moving.
Democrats were gleeful. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., called the vote "a repudiation of the president's policies and priorities." He told reporters, "We're getting further and further away from the administration's budget."
The legislation before the Senate sets broad tax-and-spending limits, with details to come later in separate budget bills. The budget under consideration is seen as an important statement of priorities.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, was unhappy with Wednesday's Senate vote.
"These 52 senators, who each make approximately $140,000 per year, apparently believe that average working families don't need meaningful tax relief. These senators, who sit in their plush, taxpayer-funded offices, want to keep that money in Washington, D.C., where they can control it. Many of these senators will end up in big trouble back home if they don't support the president's tax relief plan," Norquist said.
"We intend to mobilize thousands of activists throughout these states by sending out more than 100,000 e-mails and working with grassroots activists. These senators need to understand that the public overwhelmingly supports the president's tax relief proposal, because it offers meaningful tax relief while still paying down the debt and continuing to adequately fund programs like education, Social Security and Medicare."
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