KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush landed at Omaha's Eppley Airfield late this afternoon to deliver a speech promoting his tax cut plan at the Airlite Plastics factory. One reason the president chose Omaha as part of a multi-city tour was to encourage Nebraska's moderate Democratic senator, Ben Nelson, to support a tax cut larger than he and fellow Democrats have indicated they want.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm confident about our economic outlook particularly confident when Congress does the right thing and lets you have more of your own money. We don't need to be little bitty in this deal. We need to be robust to get people back to work. We don't need to be afraid of the politics or afraid of the rhetoric. We need to be strong in our desire to do what is right for this economy.
KWAME HOLMAN: Also on stage with the president today was Airlite CEO Brad Crosby. We spoke with him yesterday on the eve of the president's visit.
BRAD CROSBY, CEO, Airlite: I don't think I've talked to a single worker that isn't just, you know, so excited. And this is not... we realize that this is not an opportunity that is going to come up ever again.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Airlite factory's 570 workers make some one billion plastic cups and lids a year for yogurt, cream cheese, and other dairy products. But it had been reported that workers wouldn't be paid for the time they took off to hear the president speak. Just before the president arrived at Airlite today, Brad Crosby announced a change of heart.
BRAD CROSBY: We are announcing that our hourly employees will get paid today regardless if they work today, whether they attend this event, or whether they chose to take the day off.
KWAME HOLMAN: As for the purpose of the president's speech, Crosby admitted he wasn't sure how the tax cut plan would benefit his workers.
BRAD CROSBY: I'm anxious myself, and many of us here are really anxious to hear what the president says about the tax plan, and to hear what he thinks it will do for the workers.
KWAME HOLMAN: A few miles away, at Cafe De'Lice, April Haldeman was disappointed the president would be speaking to an invitation-only audience.
APRIL HALDEMAN: I wish that there was going to be some kind of press conference, and the people of the Omaha community would have an opportunity to ask some questions.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Jan and Larry Roloff were happy the president chose Omaha, and encouraged by his call for tax cuts.
JAN ROLOFF: I think that helps in the realm of things.
LARRY ROLOFF: The more tax cuts, the better, and I think we need this to get the economy going.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Don Grambsch said he was worried that tax cuts today would lead to even bigger budget deficits in the future.
DON GRAMBSCH: Either way, it looks like we're going to have deficits, so whether we tax and spend it or whether we don't tax and still spend it doesn't seem to matter. That harkens back to trickle down, and it's not always been clear that that works.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sitting nearby was the Gigantelli family. Jim Gigantelli, an ophthalmologist and registered Republican, said he has supported tax cuts in the past. But given today's economic climate, he said he'd rather see the money go where it's needed more.
JIM GIGANTELLI: While I'd love to see the president's tax package go through personally, from being able to look at the country as a home budget, I'm not sure that I will welcome that refund or tax break as well as I'd welcome some in the past. I think that in order to provide some of these services to folks around the country, I don't see how we can do that and pay for the costs of the war, which is a very deep expense to all of us, and have this tax budget, tax break all in the same go- around.
KWAME HOLMAN: Louis Burgher, president of Omaha's Chamber of Commerce, said many cities could use additional financial help, but that Omaha is doing pretty well without it.
LOUIS BURGHER: We see about a 5 percent year-to- year increase in housing starts, construction. We're completing $2 billion in building in downtown Omaha. We've had a real renaissance along the waterfront. So construction is strong. Omaha is largely a service-based economy, not a lot of manufacturing, so we tend to not see the highs and the lows, and things have been fairly stable.
KWAME HOLMAN: Construction and renovation do dominate the Omaha skyline. Home to union pacific railroad and several telecommunications companies, the city has experienced a rejuvenation of its downtown in recent years. April Haldeman, however, said Omaha still could use the financial assistance from Washington.
APRIL HALDEMAN: I think maybe it's a little bit better than it was a few months ago, but I definitely think it has a long way to go. On the show I saw this morning, they had some figures that really showed that our economy isn't any better than it was a year ago. In fact, it's worse in many respects.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, in Washington today, the Senate began its debate on a tax cut plan that falls $200 billion short of what the House has approved. The president will make at least one more pitch for the larger tax cuts during a speech he'll deliver in Indianapolis tomorrow.