- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002

House Democrats yesterday criticized the way the White House has handled the economy and promised to come up with a better economic plan of their own.
The comments came on day one of a two-day forum that featured briefings by economic experts and Democrats from key House committees.
"In the absence of any leadership by this president and his administration on the economy, we Democrats will continue to focus our work on the economy to help working families who are suffering the harmful consequences of the Bush administration's failed economic policy," said the new House Democratic Caucus chairman, Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
"We are in a place when the economy has not worked; every family in America knows that," said incoming House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. "It finally has dawned on the president of the United States, and now he has fired his economic team. What further evidence of that failure do we need?"
Republicans dismissed the criticisms.
"We welcome the Democrats to get on board the economic growth plans that congressional Republicans and this White House have been working on for some time," said Pete Jeffries, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, specifically mentioning tax relief. "If their economic plans are simply talking points to carp and moan from the sidelines, that's irresponsible."
Democrats said they are not ready to announce their plan and that the forum is the first in a series of meetings meant to gather the latest economic information and help them craft their plan. During the closed-door forum yesterday, attended by about 130 Democratic caucus members, Democrats were briefed on the economic condition and discussed their strategy for the new Congress.
Much of the talk yesterday was critical of the president's economic policies.
"What we are here today to do is to say to working men and women that we Democrats understand what your anxieties are, and we are going to fashion a response to those anxieties, which will be an alternative to what this administration has done for the last two years," said Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the new vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
"What the removal of the economic team means is the Republicans don't think their message is so hot and indeed it's not working," said incoming House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.
Among other things, Democrats cited a rise in unemployment rates and the fact that unemployment benefits for many are set to expire at the end of the month.
They said unemployment benefits could be extended, for starters. And Mr. Hoyer said any Democratic economic plan will have "short-term stimulus, long-term fiscal responsibility and assist working families."
He said it could include some sort of payroll tax break for working Americans, though no decisions have been made.
Democrats were criticized for not developing an effective economic message during this year's election. Mrs. Pelosi said that matter will be discussed in the forum.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, said it is fair to say "people knew what we were against, but they didn't have a certain idea of what we were for."
Democrats say they will do a better job this time and are hopeful their economic proposals will garner attention.
"If we take them to the American people and the American people understand the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, I think that hopefully we will have a fair hearing from our Republican colleagues," Mrs. Pelosi said.
During today's session of the economic forum, Democrats will hear about budget challenges facing the new Congress in the areas of taxes, Social Security and the deficit, get a briefing on the new campaign-finance laws and review a post-election analysis.


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