Jason Reed  /  Reuters
Bush talks about job training and the economy at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C.
updated 4/5/2004 2:43:45 PM ET 2004-04-05T18:43:45

President Bush on Monday defended his record on the economy and the war in Iraq, appearing at a North Carolina college where he praised a partnership between local business leaders and the academic community.

“Terrorists can’t stand freedom,” said Bush, declaring that he will “stay the course” and bring democracy to Iraq. “We’re still being challenged in Iraq and the reason why is a free Iraq will be a major defeat in the cause of freedom.”

The president said that in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, “I had a choice to make after Saddam Hussein once again refused to disarm,” adding that “I will defend America every time.”

The president made no mention of the radical Shiite cleric whose supporters rioted in Iraq over the weekend. Aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, has “pledged solidarity with terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah.” The cleric is an “individual who is seeking to derail democracy and freedom for the Iraqi people,” McClellan said.

Appearing at Central Piedmont Community College, Bush said the economy is getting stronger and that he is optimistic about the future. He cited March unemployment figures showing the best job growth in four years.

Bush said Central Piedmont is incorporating the suggestions of local business leaders into the curriculum so that the jobs students study for and seek actually exist.

Bush is using North Carolina, a state where a new economy is replacing the old, to propose doubling the number of Americans who receive job-training help from the federal government but without additional funding.

“I fully understand that there are people who hurt here,” the president said. “Industries like the textiles, and furniture manufacturers are struggling ... that is an issue we’ve got to deal with.”

The visit to Charlotte to announce the initiative, part of a wider election-year bid to help workers adapt to the changing economy, also marks his last planned personal appearance in the record-shattering fund-raising drive that brought in more than $182.7 million in 11 months.

Monday’s event collected $1.55 million from 900 donors, the Bush-Cheney campaign said.

Bush told his contributors that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry wants to raise taxes on all Americans, but “fortunately we’re not going to give him that chance.” Bush said his goal is to make his tax cuts permanent and to open up overseas markets to North Carolina products.

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Ohio visit on Tuesday
On Tuesday, Kerry was to travel to the electoral battleground state of Ohio to promote a plan he says would create 10 million new jobs. He also has proposed rolling back tax cuts on those making more than $200,000 a year.

Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton called Bush’s proposals for job training “a phony baloney plan that does nothing more than shift money between programs and doesn’t offer a dime to unemployed workers.”

The initiative Bush announced contains no new federal spending with a budget deficit expected to approach $500 billion this year. Instead, it relies on $250 million Bush proposed spending earlier this year and forcing state and local governments to spend less on “administrative expenses.”

Video: Employment numbers too good? Washington now provides state and local governments more than $4 billion through the Workforce Investment Act, and 16 million people receive various services through it. But only 206,000 people completed formal training through the act’s programs last year, according to the White House. Bush seeks to double that figure to 412,000 in one year.

The White House says Bush’s Jobs for the 21st Century Initiative, announced in his State of the Union address, would move 100,000 more people into job training.

Already in budget plan
The $250 million proposal is already part of Bush’s budget proposal for next fiscal year’s budget, which Congress is considering. The soonest the money would become available would be October of this year.

The money would expand the Labor Department’s initiatives to bolster ties between community colleges, public work force agencies and employers. The result, the administration says, is that community colleges produce graduates with skills in demand by area employers.

An additional 100,000 people could receive job training if the government cut $300 million in red tape and administrative costs, the administration officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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