As U.S. troops were advancing on Baghdad, President Bush called his own pause in the war last week to meet with a group of economists in an effort to refocus attention on his economic plan. The meeting was billed as a thoughtful discussion of the challenges confronting the stagnant economy, but participants described it as largely a cheerleading session for the most controversial element of Bush's plan: the $364 billion elimination of taxes on dividends. "Clearly it was a biased group," said a participant, noting that many of the invitees came from securities firms that will stand to benefit from the proposal's positive impact on the stock market. "You're not going to find too many on Wall Street who think this is a bad idea."
The White House hopes the latest bad economic news--a surge in jobless claims and more indications of businesses cutting back--will give a boost to Bush's $726 billion tax-cut proposal, which the Senate voted to slice in half two weeks ago. Asked if the President still hoped to get his tax cut passed in full, a senior Administration official replied confidently, "Fifty miles to Baghdad." Translation: After the war, the chances could improve. In private, though, Administration officials say they will take the largest number they can get and declare victory. As a Bush aide points out with satisfaction, "Now $350 billion is the absolute floor. Look how far we've already come." --By James Carney and John Dickerson