President Bush headed to Florida today to push for quick passage of his education reforms as the flagging economy commands increasing attention back in the nation's capital.
"An educated child is one that is much more likely to realize the great American experience," the president told educators at a forum at Justina Road Elementary School in Jacksonville. "It is so important that we get it right in America."
Bush hopes to prod the House and Senate to compromise on dueling versions of education reform legislation that each passed earlier this year.
Both bills call for required annual reading and math tests, the hallmark of the president's call for greater accountability in the education system, but Republican and Democratic negotiators remain at odds over funding levels and testing standards.
"I don't think education ought to be a partisan issue — I know reading is not a partisan issue," the president said today. "Getting every child to read in America is an American issue and it ought to be an American goal."
Bush is set to take part in a reading program demonstration and address parents and teachers at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota on Tuesday.
The president hasn't had a significant legislative victory since his tax cut was passed over the summer. Breaking the education logjam could strengthen the president's hand on a more difficult issue: the budget.
Across the board, economic indicators are down. So too are the surplus estimates that Bush used in determining how much cash he had to spend in the budget he sent to Congress.
Yet, while there is less money to spend, there is growing pressure to stimulate the economy with tax cuts and new government spending.
Democrats blame Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut for draining the surplus and complain the president's budget will force the government to spend money out of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. They want Bush to submit a new budget with new math that takes into account the gloomy economic outlook.
Bush and the GOP, on the other hand, are calling for new tax breaks.
They argue a cut in the tax on investment profits, known as capital gains, would spur many who are holding on to their stocks and bonds to sell at the new, lower rate. Though each transaction would be taxed at a lower rate, the argument goes, the increase in the volume of sales would bring more cash into the Treasury.
"[The] capital gains tax rate cut is one that I've always been attracted to," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said today. "It has historically always caused a spurt in the economy."
Republicans also are talking up the possibility of cutting Social Security payroll taxes.
Bush embarked on his fourth visit to the state that decided the presidential election as new details emerged about the legal battle over Florida's presidential votes.
Printing an excerpt from The Accidental President, a book by Newsweek writer David Kaplan, the magazine reported that Supreme Court justices bitterly fought over the 5-4 decision that all but handed the election to Bush.
The Democratic Party is set to meet in Miami later this week in an effort to raise more questions about the legitimacy of the 2000 election.
But the 2002 elections also factor into Bush's visit, as he raises the profile of his brother Jeb, governor of the state.
"Obviously we were raised right because Jeb's priority and my priority are the same," the president said in Jacksonville this afternoon. "That's to make sure every child gets a good education in America."
Jeb may face a tough re-election battle next year against former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.