By Scott Lindlaw ~ The Associated Press
CRAWFORD, Texas -- As President Bush put the finishing touches on an economic growth package that could cost $600 billion over 10 years, Democrats who want his job pledged to scuttle what they characterize as a plan that would help the wealthy without reviving the economy.
The jockeying Saturday came three days before Bush unveils his plan in Chicago and 22 months before the next presidential election. But it previewed the coming political battle over how to spur the economy.
Bush's growth package probably will include an acceleration of tax cuts Congress approved in 2001; a cut in dividend taxes; tax incentives to prompt more spending by businesses; aid to financially strapped states; and extended unemployment benefits.
He signed off on key portions of the plan Friday after meeting with senior political adviser Karl Rove, and has steadily consulted other aides by telephone since starting a vacation at his ranch here Dec. 26.
The growing flock of Democrats vying for the right to challenge Bush in 2004 pounced on leaked details of Bush's stimulus package.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts called Bush's emerging package "a stimulus mirage, not a plan for economic growth."
"They won't propose major investments in infrastructure, or provide help to small businesses, and instead cling to ineffective and unaffordable new tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans," Kerry told The Associated Press. "I don't think we've ever witnessed an administration more out of touch with the economic needs of average Americans and small businesses."
Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri said of the plan: "President Bush must accept that his economic plan is flawed and start from scratch instead of compounding our economic challenges with this deeply flawed proposal."
Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina said the White House is "trying to use the Bush recession to put money in the pockets of the richest Americans over a long period of time while providing very little help for regular people."
"If this is what he thinks is going to help regular people in times of an economic downturn, it just shows how out of touch he is," Edwards said in remarks his campaign staff said were taped for broadcast today on ABC's "This Week."
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, on the brink of announcing his candidacy, used his party's weekly radio address Saturday to slam the president's tax-break plan, saying it's "the wrong idea at the wrong time to help the wrong people."
The plan, Daschle argued, would benefit the wealthiest Americans, while ignoring middle-income families.
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said Bush was assembling a plan to strengthen growth, create jobs and help people who are hurting.
"Given that Senator Daschle has already found fault with a proposal he hasn't even seen, it's clear he's more interested in politics than helping people," Buchan said. "The president looks forward to helping Republicans and Democrats alike who want to create jobs and accelerate growth.
Daschle said he planned to "do everything I can to replace this misguided plan with a proposal for immediate tax relief for middle class families -- tax relief that will actually spur economic growth."
Officials in states with heavy deficits said they were eager to see Bush's plans for aid to the capitals.
"There is always a certain amount of federal funds, but I know we are looking for more, like on homeland security and unemployment insurance," said Hilary McLean, spokeswoman for California Gov. Gray Davis. California faces an unprecedented $35 billion budget shortfall, and Davis is scrambling to fill in the gaps.
A senior White House official said it was unlikely Bush would earmark the new aid for states specifically for homeland security.