- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2002

Many quarters breathed a collective sigh of relief this week after Congress packed its bags, locked its doors and went home for the August recess.

Mitch Daniels, the penny-pinching director of the Office of Management and Budget, is probably sleeping a tad easier now, knowing the election-year spending binge has been put on hold until September. With a $160 billion deficit looming ahead of him, a month without Congress in session is almost as welcome as a boost in the revenue numbers.

Of course President Bush, Mr. Daniels' boss, is still waiting for Congress to pass some very important legislation, including bills to create a Department of Homeland Security, provide terrorism insurance reform and the additional money Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld needs to kill the terrorists and protect the country. But even Mr. Bush must be enjoying the temporary relief from the yakking and yelling on Capitol Hill.

Even the stock markets and beleaguered investors may react favorably to Congress' blessed one-month absence, knowing that while the legislature is away, they will be safe from its genetic urge to tax and regulate whatever we have left.

Who knows, maybe Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, might spend this month coming up with a budget for the country. He talked a lot about "fiscal responsibility" at the Democratic Leadership Council's meeting in New York, but a full seven months into this year he has yet to produce a budget.

A Senate without a budget plan is a legislature without spending guidelines, priorities or fiscal restraints kind of like the way Enron and WorldCom ran their companies.

But Mr. Daschle who barely controls the Senate by a fragile 51-to-49 majority does not have the votes to put together a majority coalition for a spending consensus. The result? The sky's the limit on spending in the Senate, held back only by Mr. Bush's veto threats and the more conservative House of Representatives.

We saw the Daschle spending mania in all its glory when he tried to pass a prescription drug bill that weighed in at an immense $500 billion, enough to break the back of Medicare, already facing insolvency as the Baby Boomers near retirement age. He failed to get his bill passed, though he got what he really wanted: a campaign issue to attack the Republicans in the elections.

However, the past seven months have been surprisingly successful for Mr. Bush in an election year when very little is supposed to get done. He got his trade bill through after the pundits and naysayers said it wouldn't see the light of day. He passed an economic stimulus bill that gave businesses some needed tax breaks to boost investments in plants and equipment. A supplemental bill went through, half of it for the war on terrorism, with a minimum of pork. He just signed a corporate accounting reform bill that will crack down on wrongdoers.

Not a bad legislative scorecard in the midst of the political posturing and warfare endemic to a midterm election season, when the battle for control of Congress may be decided by the shift of a single seat in the Senate and six or so seats in the House.

I do think the stock market could really bounce back while Congress is away. Democratic leaders, and the chattering media class that happily promote their complaints and blame-pointing, have been incessantly talking the economy down.

The silence on Capitol Hill for the next few weeks may help Wall Street focus on the fundamentals of this economy. Namely, that while the economy has slowed, it is still growing at a moderate 3 percent, and many more companies are doing better now than they did a year ago. Procter & Gamble reported Monday it had a fourth-quarter profit of $910 million, compared to a $320 million loss it posted last year. MetLife, the nation's largest life insurance company, said its second-quarter net income jumped 21 percent.

But many bearish investors were not in the mood for good news as the week began. Al Goldman, the chief investment strategist for A.G. Edwards, said they were in the grip of an "irrational depression."

Well, maybe a month without the "nattering nabobs of negativism" in Congress will help to clear the air, calm the nerves and boost self-confidence in an economy that is still far and away the strongest on the planet.

Financier J. P. Morgan once said that anyone who bets against the American economy will lose. Mr. Bush spoke this week about "the spirit of America." Now let's hear him talk more about America's free market and the entrepreneurial spirit that has made us the most affluent nation in the world.

After three turbulent years of economic uncertainty, Americans are in need of a little bit of confidence-building and, with Congress away for the month, the president's bully pulpit will be heard loud and clear.


Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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