- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

The White House is escalating its attacks against Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in an all-out drive to overcome Democratic resistance to a tax-cutting economic-stimulus bill that could be critical to the Republican Party's political prospects in the 2002 elections.

After more than two months of bitter Democratic opposition to any significant tax cuts to jump-start the stalled economy, and with polls showing the Republican Party is losing some support in its handling of the economy, President Bush last week ordered senior advisers to take the gloves off and sharpen their rhetoric.

Virtually accusing Mr. Daschle of abandoning his public trust, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey last week angrily charged the South Dakota Democrat with "an abdication of responsibility" while his country was at war and sinking into a recession.

The country faces a growing "national emergency and Daschle is focusing on things like the farm and railroad retirement bills that have little or no priority right now," he said.

R. Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, Tuesday warned Senate Democrats to include tax cuts in the stimulus bill or he would advise the president to veto it.

If Mr. Daschle insists on a stimulus bill that is short on tax cuts and any real stimulus, the president "may be well advised simply to let the economy recover on its own," Mr. Hubbard said. The plan that Mr. Daschle was pushing would have "very little stimulus effect, and arguably have a negative effect."

As for Mr. Daschle's charges that the Bush tax cuts caused the economy's downturn, Mr. Hubbard said, "The charges are ludicrous and will be seen as ludicrous."

These and other sharply worded criticisms from White House policy strategists are not random comments. "The orders came down from on high to start getting tougher," a White House official said yesterday.

The dramatic change in tone and strategy indicate the White House believes Mr. Daschle has moved too far to the left in his opposition of the president's economic agenda and is now perceived to be outside the political mainstream.

"I think there has been a transformation in the White House strategy over the past two or three weeks that it is now politically viable to attack Daschle as the obstructionist and partisan divider," said Marshall Wittmann, policy analyst at the Hudson Institute.

"The White House senses that Daschle has been guilty of liberal overreach and that he is now politically vulnerable. Daschle now appears to be appeasing the worst and the most liberal element of the Democratic caucus."

Mr. Wittmann said the White House realizes it is better to play offense against an opponent the administration views as vulnerable to attacks that he is the primary obstacle to the nation's economic recovery.

In the past several weeks, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt and Mr. Daschle have accused Mr. Bush of killing the surpluses and "mismanaging the economy." The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has begun preparing TV ads that will attack the Republicans for driving the economy into a recession.

Mr. Daschle, who remains unalterably opposed to the core proposal in Mr. Bush's stimulus plan accelerating this year's income-tax-rate cuts, said Republicans were not "dealing seriously with the issue of economic stimulus."

The White House will keep pushing for a compromise stimulus bill that Mr. Bush can accept, while urging senior advisers to respond more aggressively to daily charges from Mr. Daschle and his colleagues.

"We're on offense now," an administration official said.

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