- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday tried to politicize the bankruptcy of Enron Corp. for the first time by comparing it to President Bush's handling of Social Security.
"I don't want to 'Enron' the people of the United States," Mr. Daschle told reporters, invoking the Texas energy firm whose collapse was the subject of several federal investigations.
The South Dakota Democrat said the administration's budget and $1.35 trillion tax cut were imperiling senior citizens in much the same way that Enron executives ruined employees' retirement savings.
"I don't want to see them holding the bag at the end of the day, just like Enron employees have held the bag," he said of seniors. "I don't want to destroy their Social Security system."
Republicans noted that Mr. Daschle supported a tax cut last spring that was only 6 percent lower than the administration's proposal and that 12 Senate Democrats voted for the tax cut.
"It is wrong for Democratic leaders to blame the bipartisan tax cut for the deficit situation," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.
Senate Democrats yesterday pushed for quick action on a scaled-back bill to help the economy. Republicans, who were considering the proposal, said it was a sign that Mr. Daschle's strategy of blocking a bipartisan deal a month ago had backfired.
"He had to do something," Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, said of Mr. Daschle. "A lot of individual members had to be upset with the backlash."
Mr. Bush met with congressional leaders yesterday at the White House and renewed his call for an economic-recovery plan.
Traveling in West Virginia on Tuesday, Mr. Bush cautioned lawmakers against becoming too obsessed with the Enron bankruptcy to deal with more pressing issues.
"Congress also needs to stay focused on the American people," Mr. Bush said. "We're running a war. We've got to make sure our homeland is secure. And we've got to make sure people can find work."
Mr. Daschle's comments on Social Security came as the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office told lawmakers that a combination of factors the recession, the war on terrorism and the tax cut would eat up about $4 trillion of the projected $5.6 trillion federal surplus during the next 10 years. That would cause the government to borrow from Social Security and Medicare surpluses for other programs.
CBO Director Robert Crippen said the tax cut accounted for about 45 percent of the diminished surplus. He also said the economic slowdown, which began during the Clinton administration, was showing signs of recovery.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey said Mr. Daschle would not allow a vote last year on a House-passed bill that would strengthen pension systems and increase security in retirement accounts.
Republican Senate sources said Mr. Daschle was trying to deflect persistent criticism that his leadership style relied on stalling action in the Senate.
Enron was the 12th-largest contributor to the Bush presidential campaign in 2000, and Democrats were trying to link its bankruptcy to the administration. But the firm also had donated generously to Democrats since 1989.
Senate Democrats will hold at least five separate investigations into Enron's collapse in the next few weeks; the Republican-led House is conducting three probes.
Just weeks after Mr. Daschle refused to allow a vote on a bipartisan deal to help the economy, Democrats agreed on their first day back in town to act swiftly on a $69 billion package of unemployment benefits, tax rebates and bonus write-offs for business investments.
"I really don't know why it would take any longer than a couple of days to move on a bill," Mr. Daschle said.
Senate Republicans, while reserving judgment on the details, said the measure at least would allow a House-Senate conference to begin. The proposal could be introduced in the Senate as early as today.
The House approved two bills to revive the economy last year.
Some Republicans said Mr. Daschle came back to the bargaining table because he was feeling pressure to act before Mr. Bush delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday.
"The sense is, the speeches from Senator Daschle and Senator [Edward M.] Kennedy have put them in a very bad political position," said a Senate Republican aide. "They'd like to get this monkey off their back as soon as possible."
Mr. Daschle gave a speech Jan. 4 calling on the White House to return to "fiscal responsibility," which some interpreted as a push for a tax increase.
Mr. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said last week that Congress should freeze the administration's tax cut for families earning $130,000 or more and spend the money instead on health care and education.
Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat who had criticized his party leaders for considering a repeal of the tax cuts, said he met with Mr. Daschle on Tuesday about promoting a revised economic-recovery bill.
"I'm for anything that will get this thing moving," Mr. Miller said.
Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, said Mr. Daschle's latest proposal "has strong support across the board" from Democrats.
"At least it gets us to the conference" with the House, Mr. Breaux said.
Mr. Armey, Texas Republican, said Democrats "are beginning to see the light," although he panned the specifics of Mr. Daschle's plan.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said Mr. Daschle's proposal "will not get the economy moving again" because it lacks enough tax relief for businesses. But he said its passage would let lawmakers go into conference committee "so we can ultimately enact a true economic-security package and get Americans back to work."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said his colleagues probably would meet today to consider the proposal, though final action this week on a plan seemed doubtful.


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