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Bush Rallies for Research

The president sees more federal spending as a way to boost U.S. competitiveness.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- President Bush made a rare visit to Silicon Valley on Friday to sell his package of tax cuts and research spending to boost the competitiveness of U.S. businesses and the country's economy.

The president took part in a made-for-TV roundtable discussion on


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campus here with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cisco CEO John Chambers and several other local leaders. The talk revolved around education and Bush's call to up federal spending on basic research.

"Our economy is good, real good. I intend to keep it that way," Bush said. "The fundamental question is can we be

competitive give years from now, 10 years from now? My answer is absolutely, if we do the right things."

Part of the president's plan calls for spending about $136 billion over 10 years on basic research. In his presentation, the president noted that technologies behind innovations such as the Internet and

Apple Computer's

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iPod were a result of federal research investments.

Spending federal dollars on research is "a proper use of federal taxpayer money," Bush said. "We've seen what it's done in practical ways."

The president also called for Congress to make permanent the tax credit for corporate investment in research and development. Because Congress currently has to renew the credit on a regular basis, companies can face a difficult time planning their research investments, since they're worried that the credit might go away, he said.

Bush's program, especially his call for increased research spending, met with an enthusiastic response from the roundtable members and the invitation-only audience here. But the program could have dubious prospects in Washington, given the president's current political problems and ebbing popularity.

Indeed, a measure of the president's desperation could be the fact that he visited Silicon Valley at all. Unlike Bill Clinton, who practically made a second home in California -- and particularly in its high-tech center -- during his presidency, this week's trip reportedly marked just the second time Bush had visited San Jose and just the fourth time he had visited Silicon Valley since he took office.

The president also generally avoided controversy in his statements. Despite his emphasis on research spending, the president didn't address the sharp limits he's placed on federal investments in stem-cell research, a hot-button topic in California. Reacting to Bush's stance opposing the use of cloning to create new stem cell lines, California voters passed an initiative in 2004 to set aside $3 billion to fund stem-cell research in the state, but the program's funding has been tied up in the courts.

However, in his opening comments, Bush did address one of the more recent sources of his unpopularity: the rising cost of oil and gasoline. With the price of oil rising above $75 a barrel on Friday, Bush reiterated comments he made in his State of the Union speech earlier this year about the country needing to do something about its dependency on oil.

With the growing demand for oil from India and China and with prices at the pump rising, the president argued that it's in the interest of the U.S. to diversify its energy sources "as quickly as possible."

"I know folks here are suffering" from high gas prices, Bush said. "It's like a tax, particularly on working people, small business people."

Bush didn't propose any particular steps to wean the country off oil and his administration has a decidedly mixed record on the subject, generally opposing calls for a carbon tax, or significantly higher standards for automobile fuel efficiency.

The hour-long "discussion" wasn't much of one. Each panel member got a chance to introduce himself or herself and generally talk a little bit about what they liked about the president's plan. That said, the president did show particular interest in a discussion by Chambers and Bernadine Fong, head of a local community college, about the Cisco Academy, a program the company sponsors at local colleges to train students how to use Cisco networking equipment.

"Community colleges are about as market-oriented as you can get," Bush said. "They're practical; they train people for jobs that actually exist."