LIVONIA – President Bush predicted Thursday he will be re-elected next year but sought to shore up public support on the economy, making sure voters give him credit for rebates heading to millions of taxpayers this week.

Bush insisted the refund checks will stoke the economy by putting money into Americans’ hands. “Better days are ahead,” Bush said, standing before a giant mock-up of a check.

Bush walked the floor of a Treasury Department plant in Philadelphia as it churned out thousands of child-credit tax rebates an hour. That stop opened a trip that later took him to Michigan for a $2 million fund-raiser and another manufacturing plant tour.

Bush issued his stock dismissal of “the political season,” reiterating that “it will come in its own time” and contending he is focused on policy. But his 12-hour swing showed him in full-throttle campaign mode – and flush with confidence.

“You are laying the groundwork for what will be a great victory in 2004,” Bush told nearly 1,000 donors at the Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn, Mich. When they chanted “Four more years,” he replied: “I accept.”

Amid the clattering machinery of the Philadelphia print shop, Bush examined a check and jokingly began to shove it into his jacket pocket.

“Soon the mail carrier will be delivering the checks that we promised to the American people,” Bush told plant workers and supporters. He was referring to rebate checks of up to $400 per child, the result of a tax cut enacted in May that increased the total annual credit to $1,000 this year for middle-income families.

“Twelve billion in tax relief is on its way to more than 25 million American families,” Bush said.

Democrats said he should visit a Treasury plant printing bonds to pay for deficits that the White House acknowledges have grown partly as a result of the tax cuts.

Bush’s name does not appear on the rebate checks, but they contain the line, “Tax relief for America’s families.”

Bush also made a rare personal, public plea for efforts to send checks to more low-income families. Some Democratic lawmakers are trying to expand the credit to families that do not pay enough income tax to take advantage of the bigger benefit. Bush has said through aides he supports the step, but had said virtually nothing publicly to prod Congress.

“They’ve got to resolve their differences and get it to my desk as quickly as possible so people can get additional help,” Bush said of the legislation.

Bush’s swing through Pennsylvania and Michigan had the air of a campaign trip. Taxpayers split the costs of the trip with Bush’s re-election committee.

Bush lost both states in 2000, and wants to win them next year. Together, Michigan and Pennsylvania will account for some 14 percent of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency in 2004.

Bush has visited Pennsylvania more than any other state – 20 times – and planned a 21st trip on Monday. Thursday was his 10th trip to Michigan as president.

Though it covered many miles, the trip lacked the frantic pace of 11th-hour campaigning. The White House built in more than three hours of down time for Bush in Michigan.

Senate Democrats said while Bush was touting his tax cuts, he was ignoring the huge federal debt that taxpayers would ultimately have to cover.

“The people’s money, translated into the people’s debt, is going to take money out of the people’s pockets,” said Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, who heads the Senate Democratic campaign committee.

“More and more people are coming to the conclusion that the president has taken us down a fiscal course that doesn’t add up,” said Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee.

While Bush’s speeches covered a variety of issues, he kept the spotlight firmly fixed on the economy.

Last month, the nation’s unemployment rate hit a nine-year high of 6.4 percent. However, the number of workers filing new applications for jobless benefits dropped to a five-month low last week, according to government figures released Thursday.

A poll published in The Detroit News Thursday helped explain Bush’s focus. Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said they approved of Bush’s handling of the economy, while 47 percent said they disapproved.

He delivered a second economic speech at Beaver Aerospace and Defense Inc. in Livonia.

Provisions in this year’s tax cuts will help managers at the plant hire 10 new workers, Bush said – just the kind of “ripple effect” he said he intended.

“We’re not just talking about just this company here,” Bush told plant workers, his voice rising to a shout. “There are companies all across the country like this company, and if you get 10 hired here and 10 hired there and 10 hired over there, all of a sudden those 10 are starting to add up, and our fellow citizens are getting back to work.”

He cited low interest rates and inflation as signs the economy is ready to rebound.

“Sign after sign says we’re poised for growth so people can find work,” he said.

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