- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

The political war over President Bush's stimulus plan intensified yesterday, with Republicans accusing Democratic leaders of blocking his recovery proposals in the hope that a recession would help them gain congressional seats in next year's elections.
With new government data showing that the economy was slipping into a recession, the White House and Republican leaders said they wanted a vote "as soon as possible" on Mr. Bush's accelerated tax-cut plan to help the economy recover from the blow it took from the September 11 terrorist attacks. But Democratic leaders said they are in no hurry to act on a stimulus bill and, if they do, they want the bulk of relief to go to the unemployed, not to income-tax cuts to spur consumer spending and investment.
A senior Senate Republican leadership official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, charged for the first time yesterday that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota was "playing politics" with the economy in a scheme to help Democrats win control of Congress if the nation's economic slowdown continued deep into next year.
"What's clear is that the Democrats are dragging their feet on an economic-recovery plan, because they want to see Republicans suffer the blame of voters next November," the official said.
"If Republicans are seen as not getting the job done, Democrats see that as benefiting them. This is sheer politics, playing with the economy and the voters' wallets," the official added.
House Republicans, in a statement released yesterday, also escalated their criticism of Mr. Daschle, asking: "What more evidence does Senator Daschle need that Americans cannot wait for him to spend their money before creating jobs and boosting the economy?"
The White House, stepping up its campaign to get Senate action on the recovery plan, has refrained from making similar charges. But a senior presidential adviser said yesterday that if the Democrats continued to block action on the tax-cut plan, it would hurt the economy next year.
"Passage of a stimulus bill along the lines of what the president proposed is built into the stock market's [expectations of a recovery next year]. If such a bill is not passed, the market would react badly and it would hurt the economy, too," said White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, planned to call today for "immediate consideration" of an economic-recovery package, while senior administration officials said they were working with Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, who supported much of what was in the Bush plan, in the hopes of drafting a compromise that could win enough Democrat support to overcome Mr. Daschle's opposition.
"Senator Lott is working with others in order to push the ball forward. We'll have to see whether the Senate Democrats will actually play fair or continue to push the harsh political rhetoric that will pit us in a partisan showdown," said Mr. Lott's chief spokesman, Ron Bonjean.
But Doug Hattaway, Mr. Daschle's spokesman, said last night that the senator "shares the president's goals of passing a bill by the end of next month." However, he also said that Mr. Daschle opposes any bill that would speed up the income-tax rate cuts that Congress enacted earlier this year, the core of the Bush recovery plan.
The government announced yesterday that the economy declined by 0.4 percent in the third quarter, a development that could hurt the Republicans unless the economy turned around early next year.
The party in power traditionally loses seats in Congress in the midterm elections. Add a weak or recessionary economy into the political mix and that could make Republican prospects more than a little problematic next year.
The economy contracted between July and September, and the decline could be larger in the final three months of the year. That means the administration would be entering the midterm election year with the economy in a recession and with unemployment rising to 6 percent or more. Mr. Bush knows well what happened when a recession struck in the middle of his father's term as president in 1990. The Democrats picked up eight seats in the House, one Senate seat and two of the three major governorships.


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