- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2001

Question on a political science exam: You are the majority leader of the United States Senate. The country is in a

recession. The president (who is of the opposite party) proposes a "stimulus bill" a series of measures designed to stimulate the economy and pull the country out of the recession. But next November, the entire House of Representatives (which is narrowly controlled by the president's party), and one-third of the Senate (where your majority currently hangs on a single vote), is coming up for election. All experience shows that much depends on the state of the economy on Election Day. If the recession is still on, voters will tend to vote against the incumbent president's party. If the recession is over, and the country is returning to prosperity, voters will tend to credit the president for the recovery and vote for his party.

What would you do?

(1) Pass the stimulus bill and help the country recover from the recession, even though this will be to your party's disadvantage next November.

(2) Refuse to pass the stimulus bill, let the recession continue, and reap your reward next November, when the voters hand control of the House to your party and strengthen your majority in the Senate.

If you chose answer No. 1, I have an attractive bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan that I would like to sell you.

As Mr. Dooley observed, "Politics ain't beanbag," and it would take an extraordinarily high-minded politician to sacrifice his party's hopes of controlling Congress to help the president pull the country out of a recession if leaving us in it for a few more months would result in victory for his party next November.

That is, of course, exactly the problem facing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and he has predictably chosen option No. 2. Being not only hard-nosed, but also clever, however, he has gone to great pains to conceal what he is doing. It's not that he's against a stimulus bill heavens, no. But he simply cannot accept the one President Bush is proposing and that the House has passed. So America is just going to have to do without a stimulus bill.

Oddly enough, the ultimate sticking point was Mr. Daschle's opposition to a provision in Mr. Bush's bill that would give laid-off workers a tax credit with which to purchase medical insurance. That, Mr. Daschle declared, wouldn't do at all. Instead, he wanted to extend the time under which laid-off employees would remain covered by their former employer's health plan.

It seems like a puny reason for depriving the whole American economy of the stimulus it needs to get back on its feet.

And it is. For one thing, neither of the rival proposals has anything to do with stimulating the economy. But, of course, the particular excuse didn't matter. President Bush got the message, loud and clear: The Senate wouldn't pass a stimulus bill of any kind, and that was that.

The average American can be forgiven for being reluctant to believe that a prominent politician could act in such a coldblooded, cynical fashion, but it happens all the time.

I am not eager to take a partisan approach to this example. Let us assume the worst: that the Republicans would do the same thing if the tables were turned. But I do take it a little hard that Mr. Daschle, of all people he of the engaging, almost simpering, smile, and those interminable appeals to "bipartisanship" should be the one to pull off the trick.

If America is still in a recession next November, I hope the voters will remember whom to thank.

William Rusher is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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