Tom Daschle earned a political science degree from South Dakota State University back in 1969. Too bad he received only rudimentary instruction in economics.
Otherwise, the Senate majority leader would have a better grasp of the business cycle. An understanding of the nature and causes of recession. An appreciation of a fiscal policy that yields economic growth.
Alas, the South Dakota Democrat’s economic myopia was on full display during his recent, widely publicized speech delivered to the Center for National Policy, an advocacy group with close ties to the party of Mr. Daschle’s left wing.
The Senate majority leader lamented the sudden disappearance of the federal budget surplus, which was supposed to top $310 billion in 2002, and the reappearance of an annual deficit for the first time since 1997.
“There are those who say the reason the surplus deteriorated so quickly is the attacks on America and the war against terrorism,” said Mr. Daschle. “But September 11 and the war aren’t the only reasons the surplus is nearly gone. They’re not even the biggest reasons. The biggest reason is the tax cut.”
That’s right, said the amateur economist. The 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut that President Bush and congressional Republicans enacted over Mr. Daschle’s “fiscally responsible” objection gobbled up the budget surplus and precipitated “the most dramatic fiscal deterioration in our nation’s history.”
Yet, not even Mr. Daschle’s fellow Democrats buy his economic analysis. Indeed, the Democrat-controlled Senate Budget Committee issued a report yesterday that said the recession not the Bush tax cut is the main reason the surplus has withered away.
But Mr. Daschle even tries to make a cause-and-effect connection between the tax cuts and the recession. “Not only did the tax cut fail to prevent a recession,” quoth the Senate majority leader, “it probably made the recession worse.”
Again, Mr. Daschle’s fellow Democrats disagree.
“The impact of the tax cut has not yet been felt,” said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “So I don’t think it worsens the recession at all.” The most meaningful part of the tax cut that has gone into effect, she added, is the “rebate portion.”
So, if, as Mr. Daschle suggested, the tax cut had a deleterious effect on the recession in general, and the budget surplus in particular, then the blame must be assigned to the rebate. And it is hard to see how the Senate majority leader can take issue with last year’s tax rebate since he proposed yet another rebate on top of it.
Mr. Daschle thought he could use the tax-cut issue against Mr. Bush and the Republicans as the parties look ahead to the November midterm elections. He thought he could portray the tax cuts as a giveaway to the rich at the expense of the middle class and poor and to the detriment of the economy and the federal budget surplus.
What he utterly ignored, as Mrs. Feinstein noted, is that “20 percent of the Democratic Senate caucus voted for the tax cut.” Actually, 12 Senate Democrats voted with the president, including several who are up for re-election this year.
Which is why Mr. Daschle’s tax cut demagoguery did not go over especially well with Mrs. Feinstein and other moderate Democrats. Like Georgia Sen. Zell Miller, who voted for the tax cut, and who suggested that the Senate majority leader was doing the Democratic rank and file more harm than good.
“How do you have as one of your priorities to reelect the moderate Democrats from South Dakota, Montana and Missouri on one hand,” asked Mr. Miller, “then, on the other hand, blame them for voting for a tax cut that he maintains has created the recession?”
The reality is that Mr. Daschle is hoping to run on a bad economy. He hinted as much last month when the political science grad noted, “The degree to which the economy is not doing well that is the degree to which the party out of power does better.”
So, with a Republican in the Oval Office, a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and tenuous Democratic control in the Senate (by fluke of Vermont Sen. Jim Jefford’s defection from the party of Bush), Mr. Daschle aims to make political hay out of the recession.
Thus, he at once lauds Mr. Bush as an exemplary wartime president, while also bashing the first-termer for being a poor custodian of the economy. It is Mr. Daschle’s strategy to somehow neutralize the tremendous good will Mr. Bush enjoys among the American people in the wake of September 11. Good will that the Senate majority leader fears Mr. Bush will use to campaign for Republicans next fall, helping the GOP not only to retain its House majority, but also to regain control of the Senate.
It’s understandable that Mr. Daschle wants to remain the Senate’s majority leader. But he will not do so by stumping against last year’s tax cuts, which were enacted with not only the support of President Bush and the Republicans, but also the Senate’s moderate Democrats.
Joseph Perkins is a nationally syndicated columnist.