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Bush's Recovery Plan

AMERICANS now have a better idea of how President Bush proposes to lift them out of a lengthening recession. Calling for the kind of commitment that won the Gulf war, he laid out policies from tax changes to arms cuts in his State of the Union message.

Many of Mr. Bush's proposals have merit. Tax credits to spur investment are useful. Making permanent the tax incentives for research and development is one step toward long-term economic strength.

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But the emphasis on tax measures to turn around the economy raises questions. The middle-class tax breaks the president put forward may be politically necessary in this campaign year, but they're not likely to be of much help in generating jobs.

And if competition builds between the White House and Congress over who can give taxpayers the biggest break, deficit reduction could go by the boards.

Other points of competition, or conflict, with Congress: military cuts, with Bush proposing $50 billion over the next five years and no more, and capital- gains tax relief, with the Democrats firm in their belief it's basically a way to aid the rich.

The president made only the barest start toward explaining how he'd alleviate Americans' mushrooming medical bills - a top issue for Congress and the presidential candidates.

It's doubtful the president will get what he wants - passage of his economic proposals by March 20. Differences in Congress are too sharp to honor that deadline, and Tuesday's speech failed to articulate a set of goals that will transcend partisanship.

Will the speech lift the president in the public's esteem? Opinion surveys just before the State of the Union showed favorable ratings for Bush's performance in office sliding to 43 percent.

Bush's fighting words on the economy aside, most forecasters see little chance of recovery building much steam in 1992.

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But, again, the issue is not who can create an instant recovery - that's economic alchemy. The heart of the political debate this year should be who can assemble a credible plan for long-term US economic health. Bush's speech, at the least, helped define the terms of that debate.

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