- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Republican lawmakers, looking beyond this week's debate on war with Iraq, plan to counter Democratic campaign attacks on the economy with renewed offensives on homeland security and retirement benefits.
As the House opened debate yesterday on a resolution authorizing President Bush to use military force against Iraq, the Republican-led Ways and Means Committee approved two bills intended to ease investor anxiety.
One bill would allow investors to deduct more than double the amount of stock market losses from their taxes, increasing it to more than $8,000 annually. The other would accelerate scheduled increases in contributions to tax-favored retirement accounts.
Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, said the measures would "help build the confidence and restore the losses of America's investors."
But all Democrats on the committee voted no, calling the measures an election-year ploy.
"This isn't real relief for pension holders or investors; it's Politics 101," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat. "They are running for political cover as fast as they can."
Democrats have complained for weeks that Mr. Bush has deliberately pushed their election issues off the table with his call for a debate on disarming Iraq. With Congress heading toward passing that resolution in the next few days, Democrats are turning their campaign focus again to the economy by holding an "economic forum" Friday in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said 2.2 million people have lost their jobs during the Bush administration.
"We've gone from a $5.5 trillion surplus to a $400 billion deficit," Mr. Daschle said. "Those statistics alone demand that we put more attention on the economy than the administration is willing to do. They ought to clean house, start over, come to some realization that we need leadership on the economy."
Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, said: "The polls are showing that more and more people are concerned about the economy, even more than they are about Iraq. That's something people feel the president has not paid enough attention to. You have to be able to do more than one thing at a time."
Republicans say they plan to blunt these attacks by pointing out that Democrats offer no solutions to the sluggish economy.
"I don't think the American people buy into the idea that the president or anybody else is responsible for the economic slowdown we're in," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican. "To this point, all the Democrats have had is a proposal to raise taxes."
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said Republicans will also attack Mr. Daschle for blocking House-passed bills on pension reform, national energy policy and tax cuts that would create jobs and strengthen retirement security.
"Daschle sits on all that," Mr. Armey said. "We believe we can demonstrate all the things we've done to say, 'We'll put you back to work.' And I don't think Daschle can demonstrate anything but the things he's stopped."
Republicans also intend to renew the criticism of Senate Democrats for stalling a bill to create a Department of Homeland Security.
"Obviously, this is a national priority," Mr. Armey said of homeland security. "We would expect that job to get done."
The Iraq debate may dominate the legislative agenda into next week, if Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia does not drop procedural hurdles to completing the resolution. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell visited the Capitol yesterday to urge lawmakers to finish the bill this week.
"It is a resolution that will definitely strengthen my hand as I try to do the diplomatic work in New York, as I try to get a U.N. Security Council resolution," Mr. Powell said. "We need it now."
There were few surprises as lawmakers continued to declare their positions on Iraq. Sen. James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent, opposed the White House resolution.
"Even if he were to develop a nuclear capability, I have a hard time believing that Saddam Hussein would turn these weapons over to any organization, particularly a terrorist organization, after he has paid so dearly to acquire them," Mr. Jeffords said.
In the House, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, suggested that the anthrax attack last year at the Capitol could be linked to Saddam or Al Qaeda.
"We have a sacred duty to do all that we can to ensure that what happened on September 11th never happens to America again," Mr. Hastert said. "There is no doubt that Iraq supports and harbors those terrorists who wish harm to the United States."


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