- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

It has been nearly two months since the Republican House passed a stimulus bill that would inject $100 billion into the economy next year, mostly in the form of tax cuts. The House's tax-incentive-based stimulus package followed on the heels of a $40 billion spending package Congress passed in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. To be sure, the House stimulus package wasn't perfect, but it was timely. And besides, its warts could have been removed in conference.

Since the House acted in October, however, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has done his best to block a stimulus package. Not even the official Nov. 26 declaration by the National Bureau of Economic Research that the U.S. economy entered a recession in March could make Mr. Daschle budge. Instead, he moved in the opposite direction, insisting that any stimulus package considered by the Senate would have to be approved by two-thirds of his Democratic caucus.

One hardly needs to be a cynic to suspect that Mr. Daschle may prefer that no package offering any prospect of timely economic stimulus emerge from the Senate. With postwar recessions averaging 11 months in length and the current downturn now in its 10th month, Mr. Daschle may well be hoping for a longer-than-normal slump or a less-than-vigorous recovery. In either case, the unemployment rate would likely continue to increase, damaging the electoral prospects of Republicans in 2002. It is worth recalling that even though the relatively shallow 1990-91 recession officially ended in March 1991 (when the civilian unemployment rate was 6.8 percent), a jobless recovery over the next 15 months saw the unemployment rate rise to 7.7 percent, essentially sealing the electoral fate of President Bush's father.

Similarly, one could easily imagine Democrats running their 2002 congressional campaigns under the "It's the economy, stupid" banner that their party's standard-bearer adopted 10 years earlier. Since the party occupying the White House normally suffers significant electoral losses during an administration's first midterm election (the Democrats lost 53 House seats, seven Senate seats and control of both chambers in 1994), Mr. Daschle and his Democratic colleagues no doubt view a dead-in-the-water economy as their best opportunity to recapture the House and pad their Senate majority.

That would set the stage for the 2004 presidential campaign, in which Mr. Bush would constantly be on the defensive on domestic policy issues much as his father had been in 1992. With Mr. Daschle's cynical strategy in mind, retiring Majority Leader Dick Armey pledged on Tuesday to pass a revised economic stimulus package in the House before recessing for the year. As they did earlier this year in passing Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan, responsible Senate Democrats may have to once again roll over their obstructionist leader for the good of the economy.

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