- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

It is painfully clear that Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota has turned the once-productive Senate into a burial ground for most of President Bush's remaining economic-growth agenda.

As Congress nears adjournment this month, and with the United States sinking in a recession, Mr. Daschle has delayed, blocked or killed the must-pass priorities on Mr. Bush's legislative short list to rebuild and strengthen the nation's ailing economy.

The economic-stimulus bill has languished for weeks under Mr. Daschle's orders. He yanked the energy-independence bill from committee when it had the votes to pass. The trade expansion bill is going nowhere this year, Mr. Daschle told the White House. And what about the terrorism-insurance bill? Mr. Daschle halted the markup.

The news media has reported how the president has amassed huge executive powers to deal with the war on terrorism. But little notice has been given to the majority leader's abuse of powers to thwart the administration's efforts to put jobless Americans back to work.

The Democratic leader has been so successful in wielding his own legislative-veto authority over the White House that the Wall Street Journal stated, "Tom Daschle might as well be president."

"The issue now is whether Mr. Bush will continue to let himself get pushed around," the newspaper stated.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but on that day the president decided he had had enough of Mr. Daschle's sneaky-stalling tactics, and launched a new-and-tougher counteroffensive to save his No. 1 priority.

First, Mr. Bush called in congressional leaders and pushed them to break the impasse over the tax-cutting economic stimulus bill that had passed in the House. Then, senior Bush advisers given the go-ahead from the president attacked Mr. Daschle's dilatory tactics with stronger language.

White House economic adviser Larry Lindsey, who rarely says anything remotely political, leveled the first blast and didn't mince words.

"This is clearly an abdication of responsibility. We have a war on and a national emergency, with the country in a recession. The stimulus bill gets waylaid in the Senate, the energy bill gets waylaid by the Senate, the terrorism-insurance bill is not allowed to be marked up and there is no action on the trade bill," Mr. Lindsey told me in an interview.

Mr. Daschle has been busy, but with legislation that has nothing to do with the pressing economic dangers facing the country, Mr. Lindsey said. This is a guy who has got "his priorities all wrong," he added.

"He has not moved on energy, economic stimulus, terrorism insurance and trade. But he moves the railroad-retirement bill, which certainly is not a pressing national need and never has been," Mr. Lindsey said.

Why is Mr. Daschle moving the railroad workers' pension-expansion bill to the top of his action list? It is because it is being lobbied hard by the AFL-CIO, one of the heaviest contributors of the Democratic Party.

What also moved ahead of Mr. Bush's economic agenda was the pending $178 billion-farm bill, which was loaded with increased agricultural subsidies (a whopping $26 billion more) that would largely enrich wealthy landowners.

But the current agriculture program "does not expire until Sept. 30 of next year. So no one can say it is a pressing national emergency. It isn't needed for another 10 months," Mr. Lindsey says. The administration asked Mr. Daschle to delay action on the farm bill until next year, but he rejected their plea.

Why is there a rush on the farm bills? Well, there are national and political needs. By taking the bill up much earlier, Mr. Daschle hopes to help vulnerable, farm-state Democrats in next year's elections, including Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Jean Carnahan of Missouri and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota.

So here we are, suffering from plant closings, rising layoffs and a climbing unemployment rate, while Tom Daschle fiddles with railroad-pension bills and more handouts for the biggest agribusinesses.

Meantime, we're buying 1.2 million barrels of oil a day from Iraq because Mr. Daschle doesn't want us to drill our own oil. We are losing lucrative business markets for farmers and U.S. manufacturers because Mr. Daschle is blocking negotiating authority to promote free trade. And the recession is lasting longer because of his demand for a big spending stimulus bill that contains little or no stimulus for taxpayers, investors and businesses.

Maybe at another time, when the United States was at peace, the budget was flush and the economy was booming, we might dismiss these tactics as nothing more than the usual legislative wrangling.

But with national economic security at stake in the midst of a deadly and uncertain war, we can't play political games. Tom Daschle needs to get his priorities in order. This is a time to put our country ahead of politics.

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