- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Recession politics is expected to dominate Congress in the new year, and analysts say it's an election-year recipe for partisan finger-pointing and gridlock.
Democrats want to campaign on the recession in the hopes of taking back the House, a formula that provides them with little incentive to approve legislation aimed at improving the economy.
"The only ticket for the Democrats gaining a majority is a weak economy," said Marshall Wittman, congressional analyst at the Hudson Institute in Washington. "They really have no other issue."
That means little or no progress could be made on a variety of pending legislation, from a national energy policy to increasing the minimum wage. Other issues on the table this year include a new prescription-drug benefit under Medicare; a ban on human cloning, which is pending in the Senate; a bill to give the president "fast-track" trade-promotion authority, which also is pending in the Senate; and a boost in spending on homeland defense.
Debate on most of those issues will be colored by the recession and projections by the White House budget director of federal deficits for at least the next three years. Both parties are looking to frame arguments for their priorities in terms of helping the economy.
Democrats also plan hearings into the collapse of Houston-based energy giant Enron, a probe that will give Democrats a forum for attacking Republican policies friendly to corporate America.
Republicans hold an 11-seat advantage in the House. If the recession deepens, Republican incumbents will seek the White House's help to shield them from Democratic accusations that Republican tax cuts have brought on the recession and projected federal deficits.
Democrats say they want to help the economy through aid to unemployed workers, rejecting Republicans' proposals that also include tens of billions of dollars in tax relief for corporations. Few expect these partisan dynamics to change when lawmakers return Jan. 23, though Republicans are hoping President Bush will keep the pressure on Senate Democrats to help the economy in his first State of the Union address.
Before Congress adjourned Dec. 20, the Bush administration and congressional Republicans were successful in portraying Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, as the chief roadblock to an economic-stimulus bill.
"They won the initial battle with Daschle," Mr. Wittman said. "They put the blame for the failure of the stimulus package directly on Daschle's doorstep."
Vice President Richard B. Cheney called Mr. Daschle "obstructionist" for refusing to allow the Senate to vote on two House-passed stimulus bills. Mr. Daschle responded by reminding reporters that Mr. Bush's father had presided over a recession in the early 1990s.
Mr. Daschle denies that the debate over how to help the economy has harmed his working relationship with Mr. Bush. He disagreed with a reporter's suggestion that his rapport with the president seemed better in midsummer, when Mr. Bush was the host of a casual dinner of Mexican food for Mr. Daschle and his wife at the White House.
"Now we're having breakfast together every week," Mr. Daschle said before Congress adjourned. "We had an occasional burrito [previously]. Now we're having a regular piece of toast. It doesn't get any better than that."
Blaming the administration's $1.35 trillion tax cut for new budget deficits is likely to cause discomfort within the Democratic ranks. Six of the 12 Democratic senators who voted for the Bush tax cut are up for re-election.
Four of them Sens. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Max Baucus of Montana, Jean Carnahan of Missouri and Max Cleland of Georgia represent states that Mr. Bush carried in 2000.
Republican leaders are likely to continue their attacks on Mr. Daschle for stalling or killing bills approved by the House. That strategy should resurface when the Senate takes up an energy bill in late January or early February.
The House in June approved an energy bill that included Mr. Bush's proposal to allow oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Senate Democrats have promised to filibuster that provision. Republicans have said the proposal would create up to 700,000 jobs.


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