President Bush was interviewed Tuesday by Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson and five other Ohio reporters.
The interview was conducted on the president's bus during the drive from Lebanon to a layover in Blue Ash before his rally at the Cincinnati Gardens.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q. Mr. President, Pfc. Matt Maupin is held hostage, as far as we know, somewhere in the war zone. Do you have any message for his parents, who live near Batavia, just outside of Cincinnati?
A. My message is that there's a lot of people praying for the son and praying for them. This has got to be an incredibly trying period of time for them.
And the other message is that, of course, any time there's a soldier that's missing, we're doing everything we can to find that person. And I am prayerful, as well, that there will be a joyous day in their life when their loved one is found.
Q. You made a promise when you were running four years ago that you would not raise taxes - you said it again today. Is that something we can bank on? And what's it doing for the economy in Ohio?
A. I think that cutting taxes has helped a lot. Cutting taxes helped make the recession shallow - and economic historians will tell you this is one of the most shallow recessions ever.
The second and third tax-relief package, in my judgment, provided fuel for the economic growth that's going on.
The challenge for America is - obviously, look, we need short-term growth; but the real fundamental question is how do we remain a competitive nation for the long run?
I believe we ought to make the tax relief permanent. All the tax relief we pass ought to be permanent. I will continue to battle for permanency in the tax code.
The best way for me, however, to describe that is the realities of what happens if it's not permanent? It means there will be tax increases. And that's what people have got to understand. And that's why I hold up these examples of people, like today, earlier in Dayton - the family that will pay $900 additional taxes, if just the smaller aspects - I shouldn't say "smaller" - if the initial aspects of the tax code are not made permanent.
Q. You made very strong statements condemning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. but do you think it would be appropriate for you to apologize to the Iraqi people on behalf of the American people for that?
A. Well, I think the best thing I can do is explain as clearly as I can to the American people that it's abhorrent practices, abhorrent; that we will fully investigate, we will find out the facts. There could be criminal charges filed, so, therefore, I don't want to go beyond what I've said up until now.
But I'm appalled like you're appalled. I mean, every American is appalled who saw that on TV. It doesn't represent what we believe. It does not represent our country. And we've got a lot of work to do in the Arab world to explain that to people, because the people are seeing a different picture.
Q. Given that Ohio has lost more than a quarter of a million jobs, Iraq, gas prices and other issues, why would you believe Ohioans should answer that their lives are better now than they were four years ago?
A. We've been through war, we've been through emergency, we've been through corporate scandals - and things are better.
Things are improving. They're not as good as they will be, but as we sit here in May of 2004, I can say that the life of the Ohio citizen is improving.
The fundamental question is, who will put policies in place to make sure it continues to improve beyond the election cycle?
And, you know, Iraq is, no question, it's tough right now. On the other hand, I look forward to making the case that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein and America is more secure and safe. And I will continue to make the case about the historic nature of what we're doing.
We have a chance to literally change the world as a result of actions we're taking.
By the way, just some other statistics, to complete your question, "Are you better off?" Disposable income is up for citizens; minority homeownership is the highest ever.
I mean, there are a lot of statistics that I think will make my case that the people of Ohio are better off.
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