At Presidential Press Conference, Reporters Push Bush to Agree to Raise Taxes

At President Bush's Thursday morning press conference, an Associated Press reporter pressed Bush about raising the gas tax to pay for bridge repairs, an ABC News correspondent described Bush's refusal to hike taxes, while paying for the Iraq war, as in conflict with doing “justice” for “government needs” for bridges and housing and, afterward, CBS's Katie Couric rued how Bush “seemed to dismiss the notion of raising the federal gas tax.” CBS reporter Jim Axelrod observed that Bush sees his “strong record as a tax cutter” as part of his legacy and “so even with something as pressing the imagery of the bridges and the infrastructure needs, he can’t be seen as calling for a tax increase, even to address that.”

In the first question at the 10:30am EDT session, the AP's Terry Hunt cited how House “Transportation Committee members are recommending an increase in federal gasoline taxes to pay for repairs. Would you be willing to go along with an increase in gasoline taxes of five cents a gallon or more?” Later, Ann Compton of ABC News reminded Bush it's “been clear you don't want to raise taxes. Can you do justice to the kind of programs the government needs for bridges, for housing, and also continue to spend as much as you do on the war in Iraq?” As for news reports that Bush wishes to cut corporate taxes, Mark Smith of Associated Press radio turned sarcastic: “Do you believe America's corporations are not making enough money these days?”

The MRC's Rich Noyes checked the White House transcript against the video for these questions, at the August 9 press conference, which conveyed liberal talking points:
# Terry Hunt, Associated Press: "Mr. President, former Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Republican Don Young, says there are about 500 bridges around the country like the one that collapsed in Minneapolis last week. And Young and other Transportation Committee members are recommending an increase in federal gasoline taxes to pay for repairs. Would you be willing to go along with an increase in gasoline taxes of five cents a gallon or more?"

# Jim Axelrod, CBS News: "Mr. President, I was talking with a journalist about an hour ago in Baghdad who says to be a cynic in Iraq is to be naive at this point, that there is discernable progress, undeniable progress on the battlefield, but there is just as discernable and undeniable lack of progress on political reconciliation. Given the premise of the surge is to give the Iraqi government breathing space to gets its business done, given that they're not getting their business done, are the American people entitled to hear from you more than, 'I've told Prime Minister Maliki he's got to do better?'"

# Peter Baker, Washington Post: "Thank you, sir. A two-part question. The New Yorker reports that the Red Cross has found the interrogation program in the CIA detention facilities used interrogation techniques that were tantamount to torture. I'm wondering if you have read that report and what your reaction to it is? And the second part of the question is, more than a year ago you said that you wanted to close the detention facility at Guantanamo, and a year later nothing has actually happened in that regard. Your Vice President, Attorney General and Homeland Security Secretary are reported to be resisting such a move. I wonder if you could tell us who's really in charge on this issue, are you doing anything about it, do you expect Guantanamo to be open or closed when you leave office?"

# Mark Smith, Associated Press Radio: "Mr. President, are you considering a plan to cut corporate taxes? Do you believe America's corporations are not making enough money these days?"

# Ann Compton, ABC News: "You've been clear about saying that you will veto overspending by Congress when they come back next month to do appropriations bills. You've also been clear you don't want to raise taxes. Can you do justice to the kind of programs the government needs for bridges, for housing, and also continue to spend as much as you do on the war in Iraq?"

# David Greene, National Public Radio: "Mr. President, I wanted to ask you about accountability. You're a big believer in it, you've talked about it with regard to the public schools. But given the performance of Iraqi leaders, given your decision to commute the sentence of Lewis Libby, you've also stood by the Attorney General recently -- there have been a lot of questions about your commitment to accountability. And I'm wondering if you could give the American people some clear examples of how you've held people accountable during your presidency?....If I could follow -- sorry. Given the decision to commute the sentence of Libby and given the performance of Iraqi leaders, is it fair for people to ask questions about your commitment to accountability?"

The MRC's Justin McCarthy took down this post-press conference exchange between CBS News anchor Katie Couric and White House correspondent Jim Axelrod:
COURIC: Let’s go to Jim Axelrod who is in the White House briefing room. Jim I’m surprised the President wasn’t really pushed more on infrastructure questions, and he seemed to dismiss the notion of raising the federal gas tax to pay for some, what, quarter of the American bridges that are in desperate need of repair. Do you think the pressure will continue on him to do something about setting his spending priorities, or, or, setting different priorities when it comes to federal spending?

AXELROD: I don’t think there’s any question about that. Congress will continue to push for it. But the President was very clear, sort of underscoring a philosophical underpinning of his, which is that you don’t need to raise taxes, you just need to be more careful about how you are spending money, especially when it comes to those infrastructure, transportation related expenditures. He was saying, “look, a lot of money gets appropriated for transportation in this country. It’s up to Congress if they want to spend it different, for instance, in pursuit of infrastructure needs. It’s up to Congress to spend it more efficiently and better.” But he was clear that he doesn’t, he doesn’t support any sort of gas tax related tax increase.

COURIC: And, and Jim, his comments were really pointed in terms of really accusing committee members of, of, of financing and funding pet projects first and foremost, and than really caring about the nation’s infrastructure as a whole as a secondary issue.

AXELROD: I think as the President gets further and further along in his presidency and begins to think more of legacies issues, one of the things that is most closely associated with the President, obviously is the strong record as a tax cutter. He is tied to this in terms of history, and so even with something as pressing the imagery of the bridges and the infrastructure needs, he can’t be seen as calling for a tax increase, even to address that. So it becomes a question of how you’re going to justify getting the money spent there, but not doing so by calling for a tax increase.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center