- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 22, 2001

President Bush yesterday said he has no intention of calling Congress back into session after Jan. 1 to pass an economic-stimulus bill, preferring to wait to see if the economy will recover on its own.
At the same time, Republicans stepped up their attacks against Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, accusing him of deliberately killing the stimulus bill in the hope that the ailing economy will benefit Democrats next year when they attempt win back the House and consolidate their hold on the Senate.
"The Senate Democrats and Mr. Daschle in particular are playing politics with the American economy," said Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland, chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
"Clearly, they are trying to hurt this president and would love to see this recession going into the next campaign cycle. That's their playbook," Mr. Rowland said yesterday during a visit here to prepare for next year's gubernatorial campaigns.
The failure to get an economic-stimulus plan through the Senate, because Mr. Daschle has refused to let it come up for a vote, has apparently left the White House in a quandary about what to do next. The recession has been deepening, unemployment continues to rise, and Republicans are facing a critical midterm election cycle when the party holding the White House historically loses seats in Congress especially when the economy is bad.
"We'll have time when [lawmakers] come back to take a look-see at the state of the economy," Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office.
"We're continuing to get mixed signals. Hopefully, the economy will be good," he said.
The president called the Senate's failure to pass a bill "disappointing," but added, "I don't intend to bring them back" before Jan. 23, when Congress will return to work.
The Commerce Department released a revised estimate for economic-growth yesterday that showed it declining 1.3 percent in the third quarter. It also reported that consumer spending fell by 0.7 percent in November. Most economists say that the decline in the economic-growth rate will be much larger in the current fourth quarter.
However, there have also been signals lately that the economy may be on a comeback. New jobless-benefits claims were down for the third consecutive week. New-home construction has picked up significantly, by 8.2 percent in November, in response to lower home-mortgage rates. The index of leading economic indicators was up for two straight months.
The consensus forecast among blue-chip corporate economists is for the economy to grow by anywhere from half a percent to a full 1 percent in the next three months. If so, that would make the recession one of the shortest on record and would make it difficult for the Democrats to exploit it.
When it became clear earlier this week that Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, was not going to let any stimulus bill come up for a vote and was running out the clock toward adjournment, the White House had to determine its strategy.
Outside advisers said the situation was one of political peril for the Republicans, who had to make clear Mr. Daschle was behind the bill's demise in the face of steadily rising unemployment, which is nearing 6 percent.
"Remember, unemployment may be a lagging economic indicator, but it is also a leading political indicator," said Republican strategist Ed Gillespie.
White House advisers yesterday said Mr. Bush's decision not to call back Congress over the stimulus package was based on several factors, including the enormous spending in the pipeline. Already approved is $40 billion in spending in response to the terrorist attacks and another $70 billion in additional tax-rate cuts is due next year.

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