- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

House Democrats yesterday concluded a two-day economic forum, saying they would soon propose a short-term economic stimulus as an alternative to the "failed" policies of the Bush administration.

Despite their disappointment in the midterm elections, incoming House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said Democrats plan to move ahead on economic issues.

"There was some fear that Democrats would come here and wring their hands and look back look at the fact that we didn't take back the House," Mr. Hoyer said. "That's not what Democrats are doing. They're looking forward as to how we can grow this economy, how we can reach out to working families, how we can create jobs."

The two-day session on Capitol Hill featured briefings by economic experts and was attended by more than 140 Democratic caucus members.

A House Republican aide said Democratic leaders had "a dickens of a time" getting members to come back to town for the summit, though Democrats disagreed.

"Our commitment is clear, and our resolve is unmistakable," said the new chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat and ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said any stimulus package should be "fast-acting," "front-loaded" and phased out over time, because "our ultimate objective should be to retain that path we were on just two years ago when our economy was generating jobs and our budget was running in the black."

Mr. Menendez said that experts at the forum and Democratic members feel "the president's policies clearly have failed miserably." He said Democrats want to act early in introducing their economic package, but would not give a time frame. He said they are working to build consensus within the party about what the plan should include.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday that he thinks Democrats are divided over whether to raise taxes.

"I think these are questions that Democrats are still trying to sort through," he said.

Mr. Fleischer said the president "wants to hear the Democrats' ideas" and is "looking for Democrats who want to work with him" to stimulate the economy.

"The president welcomes the fact that the Democratic Party, as well, wants to focus on how to help people to get more jobs and how to keep an economy that is growing to grow faster," Mr. Fleischer said.

Democrats did agree among themselves that unemployment benefits which are set to expire for many at the end of December should be immediately extended.

"This does not require additional dollars, and it will stimulate the economy," Mr. Hoyer said yesterday.

Pete Jeffries, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said that issue is a concern, but that primarily "we have to make sure that if the economy is sluggish, we turn that around so that we can get those people who are unemployed back to work."

Jonathan Grella, spokesman for incoming House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said House Republicans over the past two years "have effectively passed an economic-growth agenda including tax relief, a comprehensive energy plan, pension security" and other measures, while Democrats "fought us and the president every step of the way and have offered no meaningful proposals to give this economy the shot in the arm that it needs."

Meanwhile, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, joined the economic chorus this week, saying Monday that Senate Democrats have an economic plan they will continue to develop and articulate. He said Democrats believe that the president's tax cut should have been "more immediate" and "more targeted," that states should be given new financial resources, that unemployment benefits should be extended and that the minimum wage should be increased.

Mr. Daschle said he had spoken to incoming House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and expects the House Democrats' plan will be similar.

"It may not be to the 'T' the same on both sides, but without a question, I think all the concepts I just described are concepts completely endorsed, enthusiastically endorsed, by the vast majority of House and Senate Democrats," he said.

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