- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

Congressional Democrats, hours after approving a resolution for President Bush to use military force against Iraq, tried yesterday to return their campaign focus to the economy by sponsoring a forum to criticize White House policies.

"Their economic plan has been a disaster," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat. "Anyone invested in the market or worried about their job can take no comfort from a Republican leadership team that was handed the best economy in American history and then completely mismanaged it in the last two years."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, called on Mr. Bush to cancel his campaign appearances for Republican candidates and work on the economy exclusively.

"Cancel the trip," Mr. Daschle said. "Show the American people you're more concerned about their jobs than you are about Republican ones."

The White House dismissed the suggestion, with spokesman Ari Fleischer saying Mr. Daschle's request had "little, little point."

The return to campaign rhetoric came only hours after the Senate approved, 77-23, a resolution early yesterday authorizing the president to use military force to dismantle Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The House approved the same resolution Thursday 296-133.

Congressional Democrats have complained for weeks that Mr. Bush was taking away their campaign agenda with his call for a debate on Iraq. With the issue out of the way, Democratic lawmakers quickly resumed their election-year attacks on Republicans on the sluggish economy.

Democrats held a Capitol Hill forum with economists aligned with both parties to discuss the need for additional ways to stimulate the struggling economy.

As if speaking to the president, Mr. Daschle said: "You've indicated a concern for regime change in Iraq. I think you ought to consider a regime change in your economic counsels in the administration. All the economic indicators, every one of them, indicate that this situation is going from bad to worse."

Told by a reporter that the jobless rate improved last month and that the stock market had risen several hundred points in recent days, Mr. Daschle corrected himself to say that "most" economic indicators were showing problems.

"While we can see the ups and downs in the market on a day-to-day basis, all the fundamentals are going in the wrong direction today," he said.

Republicans said the Democrats are exaggerating the condition of the economy.

"The economy is not going somewhere in a handbasket," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican. "It is recovering slowly."

Republican lawmakers also said Democrats have blocked several bills to help the economy and that they offer no solutions.

"House Republicans have passed bill after bill to provide real solutions to grow the economy and create jobs," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican Conference. "But from a comprehensive energy bill to pension reform to making last year's tax relief permanent, Senate Democrats have stalled progress on President Bush's economic-security agenda at nearly every turn. The only prescription some offer for economic suffering is political rhetoric and finger-pointing. The Democrats' plan truly is a plan about nothing."

Mr. Thomas outlined what he called a "modest" economic package for investors and the unemployed that the House is expected to consider next week.

The bill would raise the tax deduction for net investment losses from $3,000 to $8,250, increase contribution limits for individual retirement accounts and 401(k) plans, and raise the age for mandatory withdrawals from retirement accounts to 75.

It would also extend unemployment benefits in certain states and give small businesses a more generous tax deduction for new investment.

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