- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

NEW YORK A phalanx of potential presidential contenders ganged up on President Bush yesterday, accusing him of undermining the economy and weakening the stock market.

The frenzy of Bush-bashing at the Democratic Leadership Council's annual meeting came as two top DLC officials leveled unusual criticism at their party's 2000 standard-bearer, Al Gore.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle led the charge against Mr. Bush, saying that while the market was losing $7 trillion in stock values, "all they were hearing from the administration was, 'Don't worry about the stock market. Don't worry about the deficit. We've got it all under control.'

"The economy is in trouble. And there is no economic leadership from the White House," Mr. Daschle said.

Speaking before more than 700 members of the centrist DLC at its "national conversation," Mr. Daschle and other Democratic senators with potential ambitions for Mr. Bush's job tore into the president's leadership as the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped by 447 points, sending new signals that the U.S. economy is recovering.

At the same time, DLC officials criticized Mr. Gore for being excessively anti-business in response to the corporate-accounting scandals, saying that his populist campaign themes were the chief reason he lost the election in 2000.

"His rhetoric was a little more populist than I would like," said DLC Chief Executive Officer Al From, who founded the organization that seeks to exorcise the party's old liberal orthodoxies. "We're not populists who want to tear [capitalism] down."

"We are not against legitimate, honest businesspeople," said Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, the DLC's chairman, who supported Mr. From's remarks at a press briefing before the start of the meeting.

"There are some bad apples out there. But this general criticism of businesspeople, that all business is bad, I think that is not a wise strategy," Mr. Bayh said. "We do not want to make broad ad hominen attacks on people who have done nothing wrong."

Mr. Gore did not address the DLC meeting, citing a scheduling conflict, but several other presidential contenders did come here, delivering a blistering salvo against the president in back-to-back speeches blaming Mr. Bush's tax cuts and other policies for economic woes.

Though united in criticizing the president, the speakers gave conflicting messages. Mr. Daschle said he was not ready to call for repealing Mr. Bush's remaining tax cuts. But Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman said, "We must be prepared to postpone the Bush tax cuts that have not yet gone into effect."

Mr. From said, "Our economy is shaky," and most of the other speakers portrayed the Bush economy as a disaster. Mr. Lieberman, though, also said, "Our economy is sound, as President Bush said: Growth is high, inflation is low and productivity is solid."

"This administration is all blame and no game plan," New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said, but ended her speech by saying, "We are not in the blame game."

Although the speakers were talking up the DLC's "new ideas," they pointed to several major actions being taken by Congress that the administration is supporting.

Mr. Daschle blamed the administration for the stock market's losses, the decline in tax revenue that resulted in new deficits and for the increase in unemployment. "We've got a jobless recovery," he said.

As for what to do about these problems, Mr. Daschle recited recent actions to pass a corporate accounting reform bill to crack down on abuses, a terrorism insurance bill to help the building industry and legislation to give Mr. Bush trade negotiating authority. The president has said he will sign them when they reach his desk.

But Mr. Lieberman said Mr. Bush "had to be dragged kicking and screaming to support real reforms in corporate accountability." As for his economic policy, "They have no growth strategy, except their one-note plan that would fit on the back of a shampoo bottle 'Cut taxes, increase spending, borrow, repeat.'"

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts denounced Mr. Bush's policies in the war on terrorism, and his national security and foreign policies in general. He said the president had not yet made the case for going to war against Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.

"The administration has not provided the reasons for the body bags for taking those risks," Mr. Kerry said.

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