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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Don Evans

March 23, 2004

Don Evans
I'm delighted to be here to participate in Ask the White House for a fourth time. I'm optimistic about the future of our economy. Each day we are seeing positive signs that the economy is rebounding. Economic growth in the second half of 2003 was the fastest in 20 years. Productivity is up at our manfacturing plants. And unemployment is at 5.6 percent - lower than the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. Still, President Bush and I will not rest until every American who wants to work can find a job. We're committed to seeing that happen. I'll take your questions now.

Sandra, from Urbana, IL writes:
What does Bush realistically plan to do about the alarming increase in the deficit and what role does Alan Greenspan's recommendations play in Bush's decisions?

Don Evans
Thank you for your question, Sandra. I was recently in your great state where I spoke to manufacturers in Chicago.

Chairman Greenspan is a person I respect. I meet with him regularly and listen to him carefully. He is one of the best and brightest thinkers we have, and I admire his dedication and willingness to serve the American people.

In times of war, we have had to make tough decisions in order to fund priorities that will defend our homeland. We have a deficit today because we inherited a recession that led to an economic slowdown. But we are also spending the dollars necessary to defend America and fight the war on terrorism.

In fact, today’s deficit is very manageable by historical standards, and we have a plan to cut the deficit in half in five years. The key elements are constant growth and holding the line on non-security discretionary spending.

We’ve also taken steps to turn our economy around. We’ve put more money into the pockets of American workers, and we’ve created sound economic policies to help small businesses grow. Thanks to President Bush’s leadership our economy is picking up steam. The President’s tax relief plan was the right plan at the right time. He’s providing the steady leadership America needs right now.

Cheryl, from Philadelphia writes:
What's your prediction for GDP growth in 2004? Will that translate into new jobs?

Don Evans
Thanks for your question, Cheryl. Let me start by explaining that the Bush Administration took office on the bust side of a boom-bust cycle.

There was a recession in 2001 and significant job losses that year. It was a recession that had been brewing for months, and the troubles with the economy were exacerbated by September 11th, a number of corporate scandals, and the collapse of the dot-com bubble.

President Bush has seen us through some of the most difficult times this country has ever faced. And he acted aggressively in providing tax relief for families and small businesses.

Some of the private forecasters, such as the Blue Chip, predict that GDP growth will be 4.7 percent in 2004. During the second half of last year, we had the strongest growth in 20 years.

Economic growth does translate into jobs. And we’ve already started to see encouraging signs in the labor market. In the past 6 months, we’ve added over 350,000 jobs, and initial jobless claims are at a three-year low. We’re expecting significant job growth in the months ahead.

The, from Arizona writes:
What are you doing to protect America's intellectual property against pirates in China? You should get tough with China What the Chinese are doing is unamerican.

Don Evans
America’s economy is on the rebound, but it could do even better if we had a level playing field in international trade.

Over the past 3 years, we have tried to foster a positive and productive relationship with the Chinese. But we do need better cooperation from them.

I am hopeful that the Chinese will start providing protection for intellectual property rights that meets WTO requirements. We need it so that American and Chinese businesses can flourish.

Currently, counterfeit products are injuring lawful producers, and that’s just not right.

We plan to bring up some of these issues next month during a meeting of the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade. China’s Vice Premier Wu Yi will chair that meeting, and I plan to have a frank discussion with her about the need for economic cooperation.

Raymond, from Bull Shoals writes:
The number of Americans filing first-time jobless claims fell last week to the lowest level since the President took office.

One economist says that this is an early signal of a global economic revival.....

Why is that?

Don Evans
You’re right, Raymond. Jobless claims fell 6,000 to 336,000 for the week ending March 13. That’s well below the expectations of about 345,000.

And yes, it marks the lowest level of jobless claims since the week before President Bush was inaugurated as President.

It proves that the rising economic tide is starting to lift Americans seeking work. And it shows that our gathering economic momentum is reaching more and more Americans.

Critics who want to raise taxes right now are just wrong. That would stall the economic growth we’re having.

We’re going to continue to push President Bush’s jobs and growth package in Congress. It’s the surest way to continue this economic revival.

Robert, from barbmoio writes:
If gas prices continue the upward spiral, won't this fuel an inflationary economy? What if anything is the Administration doing to influence gasoline prices?

Don Evans
Robert, your question is timely. Many Americans are seeing higher prices at the gas pump as they begin their spring travels.

Providing America with a reliable and affordable source of energy has been one of our top priorities since the day this Administration took office. We know that high fuel prices not only hurt consumers, but they also hurt the ability of companies to do business.

America needs an updated energy infrastructure to meet the growing demand. Rest assured, we are working with Congress to push for an energy plan that will provide consumers with the energy they need to keep our economy rolling.

Donna, from Lexington writes:
Sec Evans, As you are well aware, there is a lot of discussion now about the benefits of free trade. Does any of this negative talk about how free trade hurts our economy give you pause and begin to think that there is something going for more of a isolationist approach?

Could our country get by with an isolationist strategy?

Don Evans
Thanks for your question Donna.

Some are advocating a retreat from engagement. We must be wary of that danger. A reversal from these policies would bring economic hardship for the United States and a descent into depression for the world economy.

We must not only remain a country that works with the world – we must lead the way forward. Anything less would be timid, shortsighted and a shameful abdication of American leadership.

It is a double dose of defeatism that those who criticize the President for waging the war against terrorism too aggressively are also encouraging an American retreat from the world on economic matters.

Franklin Roosevelt confronted a similar problem. A rising tide of isolationism threatened to choke off America’s participation in the global economy.

A large and influential group of Americans – men and women who should have known better – were openly embracing appeasement. They wanted America to retreat inside our borders.

Unfortunately, today some influential Americans who also should know better are renouncing the legacy of Roosevelt’s leadership by embracing economic isolationism.

Economic engagement not only expands prosperity . . . it also makes our world more cohesive and peaceful.

Let’s be sure to remember the lessons of the 1920s and 1930s. While economists may differ on whether isolationism actually caused or only worsened and extended the Great Depression, there’s no doubt that protectionist policies made things a lot worse for Americans and for people around the world.

What we learned is that throwing isolationist punches only results in knocking yourself out. The lessons of the Depression should be a cautionary tale – discouraging any flirtation with isolationism.

History shows that economic isolationism starts as populist regression and ends as unpopular Depression.

People exercising the freedom to sell American products and services from anywhere in the world aren’t “Benedict Arnold” traitors. They are Benjamin Franklin free traders and innovators who recognize that success comes from making the pie bigger not from slicing it ever thinner.

Economic isolationists are waving a surrender flag rather than the American flag. As history has shown time and time again, those isolationists who underestimate America’s ability to compete and win, are standing on the wrong side of history.

Dale, from Seattle writes:
What's up with the isolationist talk that i read in the paper In my high school economics class i was taught that exploring new markets created new jobs and helped raise standards of living all over the world. Is that still the case?

Don Evans
Exploring new markets does all of that and more, Dale. But unfortunately, we are in the midst political season where some are using fear tactics in an attempt to score points with the American people. They should know better.

Trade with other countries breeds more growth for American markets and ultimately, more jobs right here at home. Right now, foreign companies employ 6.4 million Americans. The U.S. attracts more foreign direct investment than any country in the world. In 2003 alone, we attracted $86.6 billion.

But it’s not just about prosperity, Dale. As I said before, economic engagement also makes our world more cohesive and peaceful. It helps our efforts to end terrorism.

Let me share an example. Global commerce leads to communication. Communication leads to understanding. Understanding leads to mutual respect and partnership. And partners become friends who realize we all have the same goals and aspirations.

A retreat from global engagement would simply be far too costly for our nation.

Bernie, from Lake Placid writes:
The New York Times on Friday quoted a Conference Board economist as saying that its index of leading economic indicators suggests the the growth in the economy can lead to job creation quite soon.

My question is why are we experiencing a longer lag time between recovery in the economy and an improvement in employment?

Don Evans
Bernie, that is an excellent question.

The United States has the strongest economy in the world.

When you take a step back and think about everything that this economy has been through in the past few years, it is nothing short of amazing. We've been through a recession, the bursting of the stock market bubble, corporate scandals, September 11th and an ongoing war against terrorism.

The U.S. economy is not just still standing, it is incredibly strong. Thanks in large part to the President's tax relief, our economy grew at the fastest rate of growth in 20 years in the second half of 2003. We have an unemployment rate that is beneath the average of the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s.

One of the major reasons that job creation has been lagging is productivity. Productivity grew from 2000 to 2003 at the fastest 3-year rate in more than 50 years. Because productivity is so high, some companies have been slower to hire new workers.

Higher productivity is a good thing because it means better wages and a higher standard of living for all of us. But it has made job creation slower than we'd like.

The President and I are hopeful this will change soon. The signs are there. In the past six months, 364,000 new jobs have been created. Anytime there is an American worker who wants a job and doesn't have one, we know we have work to do.

Roberta, from Kalamazoo writes:
Mr. Evans, I know that U.S. factory output grew in February -- but only by .7 percent. How do you interpret this?

Don Evans
You’re right Roberta. Output at our factories grew in February. This is good news for our manufacturers and our economy. It’s proof that this economy is rebounding and heading for recovery.

As I said before, we’re going to continue to push President Bush’s growth agenda so that more jobs are created for Americans.

We just need Congress to do its part and quickly pass the plan to provide affordable and reliable energy, reduce the lawsuit burden on our economy and make health care costs more affordable.

We’ve also taken a long, hard look at our manufacturing sector and the problems they’ve experienced.

To help them grow further and succeed in the worldwide economy, the Bush Administration is working on more than 57 recommendations outlined in the Commerce Department’s Manufacturing Report.

I’d like to invite you to visit our web site and read that report. You can find it at

Drew, from Bluefield, Virginia writes:
Secretary Evans, Thank you, Secretary Evans, for taking time to answer our questions. Secretary Evans, I am an 18 year old high school student who is trying to convince my peers that President Bush is the man for the job during the next 4 years. As the workforce of the future, what can I tell my peers that the Commerce Department is doing to ensure that we are going to have jobs following our tenure in college. Thanks, Drew.

Don Evans
Drew, let me first commend you for having such foresight at such a young age. I’m impressed.

I’ve known President Bush for a long time. And you tell your friends I have never known anyone with more faith, integrity and commitment to the American people.

He is someone you can trust 100 percent of the time. He truly wants to serve our nation, and he’s doing a good job at it. We’ve seen since September 11th that the world is a dangerous place that requires steady, principled and decisive leadership. We have that in President Bush.

The President has said that he will not rest until every American who wants to work can find a job. And that’s a commitment we plan to keep to you and your classmates, Drew. Unemployment has dropped to 5.6 percent – below the average of the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s. We plan to continue working to move those numbers down.

We are creating the conditions for economic growth. Already, mortgage rates are at historic lows. At 68.6 percent, homeownership is at its highest level ever. More than 350,000 jobs have been created in the last six months. And economic growth in the second half of 2003, was the fastest in nearly 20 years.

We’re going to continue to provide momentum for job creation. And we’re going to keep pushing the President’s Six-Point Plan for economic growth. I’d like to invite you to read it Drew, and you can find it by visiting

Don Evans
I always enjoy stopping by and speaking to folks across America. It's an honor to serve you and our great nation. Until next time.

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