(CNSNews.com) - Saying it's "the right thing to do on behalf of all Americans," President George W. Bush on Wednesday signed into law the third-largest tax cut in history, which will take effect on July 1.
"Today, we are taking essential action to strengthen the American economy," Bush said at the beginning of the ceremony in the East Room of the White House. "With my signature, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 will deliver substantial tax relief to 136 million American taxpayers."
The president noted that the 10-year, $330 billion tax relief package passed by both houses of Congress last week would provide financial help to workers, seniors, small business owners and families with children.
"By ensuring that Americans have more to spend, to save and to invest, this legislation is adding fuel to an economic recovery," Bush added. "We have taken aggressive action to strengthen the foundation of our economy so that every American who wants to work will be able to find a job."
After thanking Congress for passing the legislation and getting it to his desk quickly, the president said that tax relief "matters a lot to the average citizen here in America. This tax bill will make it easier for moms and dads to save for their children's education, and that's vitally important for the future of this country."
The new law reduces the top rate on dividends and capital gains to 15 percent through 2008 and accelerates income tax cuts, as well as increasing child tax credits, with the first reductions and refunds to reach taxpayers in July.
"This legislation is a major step forward in our economic agenda," Bush said. "Yet other steps are also needed. We must hold federal spending to a responsible level."
Other steps Bush cited as necessary to ensure economic security included getting a handle on rising health care costs, making a prescription drug benefit available to seniors, reducing regulation and litigation, preparing citizens to fill new jobs created by a growing economy and reforming welfare programs.
"I believe in the future of this economy, in our nation, because I know the character of the American people," Bush added. "In 20 months, Americans have been tested by a national emergency, corporate scandals, war and recession. And time after time, we've responded effectively to the challenges we have faced. Time after time, Americans have shown a firm resolve, and an unshakable faith in our future."
However, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) was critical of the new law. "The president said he wanted to 'grow the economy,' but under this tax break bill, the only thing that is growing is the federal deficit," Daschle said. "At a time when almost 9 million people are looking for work, the Republican proposal is the wrong plan for America."
The tax relief package also drew fire from several of the Democrats running for their party's nomination in the 2004 presidential election.
Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) called the tax cuts "unfair, unaffordable and ineffective," while Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) said: "George W. Bush has sapped our schools of the funding they need to produce a new generation of innovation leaders. That may help him finance his tax cut today, but tomorrow; we'll all pay the price."
Still, the harshest comments came from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who called for the tax cut to be repealed, describing it "part of a radical agenda to dismantle Social Security, Medicare and our public schools through financial starvation.
"We can't have more tax cuts," Dean said. "We've got to get rid of what we have."
E-mail a news tip to Randy Hall.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.