- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

Democrats yesterday put into action their campaign playbook for 2002, blaming President Bush for the recession while praising his handling of the war against terrorism.
"We're virtually in a recession; we are facing deficits of a magnitude we haven't seen in many, many years," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. "And that's a direct result of the Bush policies enacted last spring."
In response, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Mr. Bush "believes that the job of leaders in Washington is to come here to solve problems and not point fingers."
"And that's why he again today calls on the Senate to complete action so that the nation can have a stimulus bill to give a boost to the economy," Mr. Fleischer said.
But the Senate reported scant progress yesterday, as it was still bogged down in talks with the House about ground rules for substantive negotiations.
Mr. Daschle's remarks, linking the administration's $1.35 trillion tax cut to budget deficits and recession, mirrored comments made a day earlier by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt. The Missouri Democrat said Mr. Bush and congressional Republicans are "mismanaging" the economy.
And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) will air television ads this month in several Republican-held congressional districts hit hard by the recession, calling Republicans' latest efforts at tax relief in an economic stimulus bill "unpatriotic and inappropriate."
But Democratic leaders are unanimous in giving Mr. Bush high marks for directing the war in Afghanistan, as Mr. Daschle did again yesterday.
The Democrats' strategy rallying around the commander-in-chief while criticizing his economic policies is laid out in a recent memo titled "Politics After the Attack." It was written by Democratic strategists James Carville, Stanley Greenberg and Robert Shrum.
"While George W. Bush is popular, voter doubts are close to the surface," the consultants wrote. "We should not give voice to these doubts in this period, but we should be prepared to highlight issues that allow those doubts to emerge later.
"The character of Bush's budget and tax policies economic damage, undermining social programs and geared toward big business help set up the congressional choice for next year."
They also said that although the economy is emerging as a major election issue, "Democrats do not yet have the advantage."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said the strategy gives incentive to Democrats to stall a bill that would help the economy.
"The Democrats think a recession is bad for the country but good for them politically," Mr. Lott said. "Gephardt and, to a lesser degree, Daschle they're doing a blatant partisan political maneuver. I think what the Democrats are doing is shameful, absurd and very poorly timed. This is a strategy that could very well backfire on them."
The strategy could backfire because six of the 12 Democratic senators who voted for the Bush tax cut are up for re-election next year. Four of them Sens. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Max Baucus of Montana, Jean Carnahan of Missouri and Max Cleland of Georgia represent states that Mr. Bush carried last year.
"Tom Daschle can't have it both ways," said Joel Rosenthal, chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party. "If he wants to blame President Bush's tax relief plan for the recession, then he also needs to blame the members of his own party, including Senator Tim Johnson, who voted for it."
DCCC Chairman Nita M. Lowey of New York this week referred to the economic slowdown as the "Bush recession." Mr. Fleischer said the slowdown actually began during the final year of the Clinton administration.
"The president understands this recession doesn't belong to any politician," Mr. Fleischer said.
He said economic growth declined from 5 percent in spring 2000 to 1 percent in late summer that year.
He said that when Mr. Bush took office last January "the slowdown was well under way."
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said the Democrats' new ad campaign is "sad."
"I call on the Democratic leadership to work with us to improve the economy and stop their campaign to profit politically from these times of trouble," Mr. Hastert said.
Mr. Daschle denied yesterday that Democrats are deliberately withholding progress on an economic-stimulus bill for political gain.
"We'll take the administration on politically, however one does it," Mr. Daschle said. "There are plenty of issues for us to debate without having to face unemployment and all the ramifications of a terrible economy. We want to get this economy moving again."
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the new Democratic campaign ads seek to "take advantage of the September 11 tragedy for partisan gain."
"I think we all feared there would come a time when some congressional leaders would start to cut and run from the president and undermine our national unity," Mr. Davis said.
Bill Sammon contributed to this report.

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