BATTLE CREEK — Reserving but a few remarks for higher
education, President Bush pledged to expand federal Pell grants
during his visit to Battle Creek, the third and final stop on his
tour of western Michigan yesterday.

During his term, the President has increased the overall number
of Pell grants awarded but has decreased the average dollar amount
given to each student. “We’ll help more Americans start
their careers with a college diploma,” he said.

Bush was scheduled to speak about his economic policies, but
instead gave what amounted to a slightly localized campaign
speech.

Bush made reference to Middle-American values in his 45-minute
speech, affirming the importance of family and even evoking the
symbolism of the American ballpark, the setting for his visit
yesterday afternoon.

“We stand for marriage and family, which are the
foundations of our society,” he said, drawing huge applause
and alluding to his support for a Constitutional amendment that
would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Bush’s running mate, Dick Cheney, recently expressed
disapproval of such an amendment, which would make illegal the
marriage of Americans such as his gay daughter, Mary Cheney.

Bush’s familiar tone did not go unnoticed by Battle Creek
resident John Hallacy.

“It’s like a guy who lives down the street from you
coming up to you,” he said of Bush’s visit.

Bush’s remarks catered to the rural voters of the area
around Battle Creek.

“I believe in the energy and energetic spirit of our
workers and farmers and small-business owners,” he said.

The president could not dodge the issue of job losses and
economic stagnation in Michigan. He acknowledged there was more
work to be done and advanced what he called a pro-entrepreneur,
pro-agriculture economic policy. Bush called for America’s
trading partners to lower trade barriers, especially those that
decrease the competitiveness of American agriculture.

“We can compete with anybody, anytime, anywhere, as long
as the rules are fair,” he said. Bush has nevertheless
provided $19 billion in subsidies to American farmers each year in
what has been criticized as an example of protectionism.

Bush also addressed Michigan’s valuable store of fresh
water in the Great Lakes.

“My position is very clear: My administration will never
allow the diversion of Great Lakes water.”

Democratic nominee John Kerry yesterday advanced a proposal that
likewise would ban the draining of the state’s precious
resource, while Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm has taken
preliminary steps to protect the Great Lakes with her introduction
of the Water Legacy Act, which would regulate withdrawals of fresh
water from Michigan’s most enduring symbol.

Bush seemingly paraphrased his opponent with another remark.

“To grow the economy, we must become independent of
foreign sources of energy,” he said.

The Massachusetts senator has tied the war in Iraq to U.S.
dependency on foreign oil.

The president also talked about Kerry’s promise to rescind
Bush’s tax cuts on wealthy taxpayers.

Battle Creek resident Jeremy Buschlen said he did not think
Bush’s tax-rebate program was skewed toward the rich.

“We got our tax checks and spent them,” he said.
“We did our part.”

Hallacy disagreed with liberal opponents of Bush, who say his
tax plan offers rebates to low- and middle-income families as a
ploy to gain support for massive tax refunds to the wealthiest. He
said those who are taxed the most should share a proportional
reduction in their tax burden.

Kerry has drawn ire for not specifying how he will fund some of
his policies, beyond taxing the wealthiest Americans. Bush
reaffirmed his commitment to lower taxes in the face of a record
federal deficit.

Buschlen said he approved of the President’s handling of
the economy and that he does not blame Bush for the nation’s
economic woes.

“The economy was going downhill before he got in
office,” he said. “He’s doing the best with what
he has to work with.”

Buschlen said the states deficits have nothing to do with
federal funding.

“State and local governments need to step up and find ways
to generate revenue and not be so reliant on the federal
government,” he said.

Hallacy said the state also bore some responsibility for the
atrophy of the job market.

“One of the key questions is, ‘What the heck is our
governor doing?’ A lot of jobs are moving to other states,
not just other countries,” he added.

As for the relocation of operations overseas, Hallacy said the
President is “making the tax code more appealing for
businesses.”

Buschlen blamed organized labor for outsourcing.

“I think it’s the unions that are driving their own
work out of the country,” he said, adding that they make too
many demands to companies

Buschlen cited national defense as the issue most important to
him in this year’s election. Bush devoted a considerable
portion of his speech to this topic.

“I will never turn over America’s national security
decisions to leaders of other nations,” he said, suggesting
that Kerry, if elected, would delegate such decisions to foreign
heads of state. This remark echoed Zell Miller’s speech at
the Republican National Convention, at which the Democratic Georgia
senator, who is not running for another term, suggested Kerry would
allow President Jacques Chirac of France to make decisions on
American foreign policy.

Bush praised Miller early in his speech as a lawmaker who had
shown personal conviction in supporting him, despite partisan
loyalties.

Bush even cited Kerry as a member of a bipartisan coalition that
stood behind Bush’s war on Iraq. Kerry has attracted the
support of many anti-war voters despite his Senate vote authorizing
the use of force in Iraq.

Bush pulled no punches for Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John
Edwards (D-N.C.). He repeatedly attacked personal injury lawyers
and bemoaned the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance. In a
transparent criticism of Edwards’ lack of experience, Bush
praised Cheney’s long record of public service.

Earlier in the day, Bush also stopped in Holland and
Muskegon.

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