Bush Plans Flextime Proposal
Initiatives Aimed At Independents
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 2004; Page A28
CRAWFORD, Tex., July 29 -- President Bush plans to announce Friday that he wants to make flextime more available to the nation's workers as part of a reelection platform built around creating jobs and increasing the financial independence of families while making the nation safer and the world more peaceful, his aides said.
Bush's support for greater flexibility in the workday would be a rare addition to his agenda, which has hewed closely to the same group of issues since he began running for president in 1999. His aides did not give details about what he will propose beyond saying that he wants to give parents more chances to participate in their children's lives by letting workers accrue hours that they could take off later. President Bill Clinton pushed the issue in his reelection campaign of 1996.
The initiative is aimed at independent voters, many of them suburbanites, who make up only about 10 percent of the electorate but could decide the race if it remains close. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), nominated in Boston on Thursday night as Bush's opponent, has been courting the same voters with a Front Porch Tour focused on such issues as the cost of health care, child care and higher education.
Bush is also preparing to unveil a successor to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 that would be aimed at making high schools more accountable, so that a diploma would indicate proficiency in reading, writing, math and science, the aides said. He will roll out a blueprint for making sure community colleges are more accessible, adapt to local needs and train students for jobs that exist.
Aides said that with Bush trying to project optimism, his campaign-trail manta will be: "We have turned the corner, and we are not turning back."
Aides said Bush will try to draw an implicit contrast with Kerry by saying, "When it comes to choosing a president, results matter." That echoes Bush's use of the mantle "a reformer with results" when he was Texas governor and running against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the Republican primaries of 2000.
After staying out of sight at his Prairie Chapel ranch throughout the Democratic National Convention, Bush returned to the White House on Thursday night and was to remain for 12 hours before heading out on a month-long prelude to the Republican National Convention, starting with a two-day campaign swing through the battleground states of Missouri, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Aides said Bush will be out of Washington at least four out of five weekdays all month. The ferocious pace, more typical of a campaign's sprint after Labor Day, reflects the judgment of Bush's strategists that he is in for a brutal fight -- running even at best in polls, behind in key states and unable to depend on his strength as commander in chief to finish off Kerry.
Until now, most of Bush's campaign events have been filled with his backers. His staff said that during August, he will make it a point to appear in more impromptu settings. His advertising has focused mostly on attacks on Kerry, but a series of commercials to begin in the next week will show Bush on his ranch, talking about his vision for the country's future.
The slogan for Bush's campaign swings will be "The Heart and Soul of America," a cheeky reference to an occasionally profane political fundraiser July 8 in New York, where Kerry said the performers represented America's "heart and soul." Kerry's campaign later said he disagreed with some of the commentary, but Bush's campaign seized on the episode as emblematic of the cultural divide between the two men's core supporters.
The aides said that in the first two weeks of August, Bush will detail his plans for "helping workers and families succeed in a changing economy." This will include Bush's plans for "a new era of ownership," a rubric that includes his plans for increasing home ownership and giving people greater control over their health insurance. Bush will continue his push to add personal accounts, a private component, to Social Security.
The White House refers to that as allowing people "to own their own retirement."
During the third week in August, Bush will turn to foreign policy and talk about his plans for "making America safer and extending peace and liberty," the aides said.
On Friday, the White House will release its latest projection of the year's budget deficit, showing that it is lower than the previous estimate. But it will still set a record.
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