Bush Promotes Competitiveness Initiative

President Bush spoke Thursday in Maplewood, Minn., to promote his newly unveiled American Competitiveness Initiative. The president wants Congress to authorize tax credits for business research, increased money for federal science programs and improved math and science education in American high schools.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. The Bush administration is requesting another $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The White House also wants more money for Hurricane Katrina cleanup. Meanwhile, President Bush was on the road yesterday, in Maplewood, Minnesota. He was promoting an issue that he called for in this week's State of the Union address: federal spending and tax breaks to improve the nation's competitiveness.

NPR's Don Gonyea traveled with the president.

DON GONYEA reporting:

The big news yesterday from the White House was the mounting cost of the war in Iraq, $70 billion more for this year, on top of the $50 billion already in the current budget. Additionally, there will be another $50 billion-dollar request included in the budget for fiscal year 2007. Joel Kaplan of the Office of Management and Budget talked to reporters in a conference call.

Mr. JOEL KAPLAN (White House Office of Management and Business): We will provide additional funding for new resources to protect our troops against roadside bombs and makeshift, improvised explosive devices that have been a major source of casualties. Increase in procurement will also come from the need to replace and overhaul worn equipment.

GONYEA: Joining Kaplan was Defense Department official Brian Whitman, who was asked how much per month the war in Iraq is costing at this point in time.

Mr. BRIAN WHITMAN (Defense Department official): Yeah, my understanding of it, as we call it the burn rate, I guess, for Operation Iraqi Freedom, is about $4.5 billion a month.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, the administration also announced $18 billion dollars more for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery.

President Bush, however, did not mention any of this yesterday. He was in the Minneapolis suburb of Maplewood promoting his newly unveiled American competitiveness initiative. Speaking at the headquarters of the 3M Company, which makes products ranging from post-it notes to high-tech fuels cell components, he called for tax credits for business research, increased money for federal science programs, and he talked about the need to improve math and science skills of American high school students.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Do you realize that economists say that as much as half of our nation's economic growth in the last half-century is directly due to technological progress, fueled by research and development, the kind of research and development you can do right here? Think about that: one-half of the progress of our economy is due to research and development.

GONYEA: He also repeated his for free trade. Mr. Bush acknowledged that people are uncertain about the economy, but he said free trade should be welcomed and that the country needs to take steps to ensure its ability to compete. The President went to Minnesota where there's a race for Senate and for Governor this year, but political scientist Stephen Scheer(ph) of Carlton College says the breaking news about the rising cost of the Iraq War distracts from what the President traveled to the state to talk about.

Mr. STEPHEN SCHEER (Political Scientist, Carlton College): Iraq gets in the President's way of making traction with other issues. So, this issue, I think, is a fundamental problem for the administration in a state like Minnesota, and it really has to be dealt with constructively, in terms of policy and politics in the next several months for Republicans to do well in this state.

GONYEA: It's a challenge that will confront the President all year: reassuring a country uneasy about Iraq, while promoting programs he says will ease insecurity about the economy and other domestic issues.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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