Jeb Bush Seeks Optimism

Presidential Candidate Focuses Heavily on Need to Improve Economy, Downplay Rhetoric

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks to a packed crowd at Barley's Pub in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Tuesday. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (DTN) -- In an increasingly crowded and boisterous Republican presidential field, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is focusing on optimism in his campaign to win the Iowa Caucuses.

"There is a lot of disaffection in this country, but I for one believe we are on the verge of the greatest time to be alive," Bush told a packed crowd at Barley's Pub in Council Bluffs in what was characterized as a meet-and-greet session.

Bush is seeking to separate himself from a GOP primary that now tops 15 announced candidates and a few others in the wings. Like other Republicans, however, Bush touched heavily on the news of the day that the U.S. and five other major powers have reached a nuclear agreement with Iran. Bush said the agreement harms the U.S. relationship with one of its closest allies -- Israel -- while weakening U.S. foreign policy for the next president.

"What the president is leaving us with is uncertainty and great doubts around the world about whether the U.S. will be there when they need us," Bush said. He added that the only two countries that seem to have better relations with the U.S. under President Barack Obama are Iran and Cuba.

In nearly an hour-long talk Tuesday, Bush didn't talk about agriculture, but did focus his attention on issues such as the economy, taxes, growing small-businesses, reducing the federal deficit and tackling immigration -- issues that most farmers could relate to as small business people.

Bush, 62, said the country overall is losing some of its natural optimism that the next generation will have more opportunities to capture a slice of the American dream.

"Now, for the first time, a majority of Americans don't think their children or grandchildren will have more opportunities," Bush said.

The number of businesses starting isn't keeping pace with the number that are closing, Bush said. Moreover, median income "the great middle of our country" is lower than when President Obama was first elected. Bush noted, "You could make the case that the great middle of our country hasn't had a pay raise in the last 15 years. People are struggling in a lot of different ways."

Median income in 2013, the last figures reported, was 8% lower than in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Bush took shots at Obama for being a divisive president and also took on GOP hopeful Donald Trump, who has surged in polls by ripping into illegal immigrants. "Whether it's Donald Trump or Barack Obama, their rhetoric on divisiveness is wrong," Bush said. "Republicans will never win by striking fear into peoples' hearts. A Republican can win and will win if we have an aspirational message that gives people hope that their lives will be better when we apply conservative principles to Washington."

Bush said the federal government needs a strong E-Verify program for businesses to deal with immigration, as well as working aggressively to control illegal immigration at the border. Programs must also be developed to deal with people who come to the U.S. legally, but then remain after their visas expire.

Bush maintains that lower tax rates would lead to higher incomes and thus would grow federal revenue as well. He believes the right policies would lead to 4% economic growth per year, which is double the current rate of economic growth.

"Our tax code now is limiting our ability to grow and prosper," Bush said, arguing that the complex tax code is one of the main reasons that fewer businesses are being created right now.

Bush has been criticized over an argument made that the economy and incomes would grow if people could work more. He argues that comment was meant to highlight the 8 million or so part-time workers who can't get full-time jobs right now. Part of that problem comes from provisions in the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare -- that are causing employers to cap hours on people. Bush said he would counter Obamacare with a plan offering high-deductible catastrophic coverage that has lower premiums for people. "We can do this in a much more affordable way than Obamacare," he said.

To effectively deal with budget deficits, Bush said "Unfortunately, we are going to have to grapple with the elephant in the room, which is entitlement programs." Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare must be reformed by the next president, he said.

While he didn't address agricultural issues during his visit to Council Bluffs, at a stop in Sioux City, Iowa, on Monday, Bush said he would eventually phase out the Renewable Fuels Standard, an issue that could raise complications with Iowa farmers who support biofuels. "We need to phase that out over the long haul," Bush was quoted as saying by the Sioux City Journal.

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Chris Clayton