- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

The battle between the White House and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle over a stimulus bill may not amount to much if the economy rebounds faster than expected.
President Bush's economic advisers think the economy is recovering, but they also believe that passage of an effective tax-cutting stimulus bill before Congress adjourns this month is still worth having as an insurance policy against a prolonged economic slump.
Moreover, while economic-stimulus bills usually are implemented too late to have little if any effect, administration advisers say action on an acceptable bill would inoculate the president and his party from any political blame in the event the ailing economy takes longer to recover.
Yet the economy is showing signs of recovery. Data released yesterday showed that housing construction rose last month by 8.2 percent, the biggest one-month gain since January.
The decline in manufacturing and jobless benefit claims has slowed, while Christmas retail sales appear to be picking up.
Administration advisers believe the economy will begin turning upward in the next three months, making it more difficult for Mr. Daschle and his party to attack Republicans on the economy in next year's midterm elections.
White House advisers, escalating their rhetoric in recent weeks, say Mr. Daschle has been "playing politics with the economy" in a time of war and recession by deliberately blocking any Senate action on a stimulus bill that might help the economy recover that much faster.
However, top Republican strategists said yesterday that the South Dakota Democrat cannot continue his delaying tactics much longer without being identified widely as the principal culprit behind the Senate's failure to act on a stimulus package to get the economy growing again.
Voters traditionally blame the White House and the party in power for a bad economy, but some Republican strategists and pollsters say this time will be different.
"This is different because the president has been so vocal in calling for a jobs bill and the House has successfully passed a jobs bill. There is only one place where the breakdown has occurred, and that is in the Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats," said Ed Gillespie, a Republican strategist and former Bush campaign adviser.
"The administration is in a good position right now. They are calling on the Senate to act, and the House has acted. Daschle is in an untenable and unsustainable position. He cannot sustain a position where nothing happens. The public is concerned about jobs and job security and the economy, and you do not want to be the one doing nothing," Mr. Gillespie said.
"This is pure politics on Daschle's part and blatant obstructionism, and we need to point out that he is putting his personal political ambition ahead of the public's well-being," he said.
It has been widely speculated that Mr. Daschle is planning to run for president in 2004.
Republican pollster Frank Luntz is skeptical that the economy will turn around as soon as some Bush advisers expect, but he says Mr. Daschle will bear the brunt of the blame when unemployment, as expected, continues to climb next month.
"Daschle's delay on the stimulus bill may be difficult to swallow now, but come January, when tens of thousands of Americans are losing their jobs, he'll pay a heavy price for his delay," Mr. Luntz said.
"The president has the bully pulpit. If he uses it, Daschle will be held accountable, and the president's bully pulpit has never been as big as it is now as a result of the war on terrorism. The president has never had this much credibility," he said.
"It will be very hard to blame the White House for the economy because they have been calling for a stimulus bill for months," he said.

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