- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

Senate Democrats, one day after giving in to the White House on Iraq, attempted to redirect public attention to their campaign themes yesterday by attacking President Bush on the economy.

Calling Mr. Bush's economic record "tragic" and "atrocious," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said in a floor speech that the president has devoted too much attention to Iraq and the war on terrorism.

"I would hope that this administration could dedicate some of its time each week to economic security as well," said the South Dakota Democrat. "We haven't seen it to date."

Mr. Daschle criticized the White House for weak economic growth, the loss of $4.5 trillion in stock market capital, 2 million lost jobs, "record executive pay" in the private sector and rising federal deficits.

But the White House rebutted Mr. Daschle's criticisms yesterday, saying he should focus on getting important legislation passed in the Senate.

"Instead of throwing stones it would be better if the Senate cast votes, particularly on the economic security issues the House has already acted on, such as things as fundamental as the budget, terrorism insurance, pension protection, welfare reform, faith-based legislation and also homeland security. It would be easier for the American people to find work if the Senate would go to work and finish this business," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot said Mr. Daschle "has no credibility on the economy."

"As Senate majority leader he has failed to pass a budget, blocked prescription drugs, stopped pension reform and stalled terrorism insurance to protect jobs," Mr. Racicot said. "Instead of leading, he's called for a post-election summit to discuss increasing taxes. Tom Daschle's leadership deficit costs American families where it hurts their pocketbooks and paychecks."

Republican lawmakers responded on the Senate floor immediately, saying Mr. Daschle offered no solutions for the sluggish economy and has been unable even to approve a federal budget for fiscal 2003.

Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, said Mr. Daschle's "long litany of woe" did not mention the Senate's failure to hold down federal spending.

"I do not understand how our Democrat colleagues can continue to stand up and to moan and groan and cry about deficits as if they come from heaven," Mr. Gramm said. "Deficits don't come from heaven; they're created right here on the floor of the United States Senate. We have adopted no budget, and we have continued to spend as if we still had the surplus that existed prior to the downturn and prior to the war."

Democrats on Tuesday finally agreed to Mr. Bush's demand that Congress vote on a resolution on Iraq before the Nov. 5 elections. Several Democratic lawmakers have complained that the debate on Iraq has deflected public attention away from their favorite issues such as health care and Social Security as the election approaches.

Mr. Daschle took to the Senate floor at noontime armed with TV-friendly charts and graphs to return the discussion to the economy.

"The economy has grown 1 percent under this administration," Mr. Daschle said. "It was twice that under the first Bush administration, but those are the two lowest economic performances that we've seen, the smallest, the most meager economic performance we've seen in the economy in the last 50 years."

He again blamed the administration's $1.35 trillion tax cut that Congress approved in 2001 with the support of 12 Senate Democrats, six of whom are running for re-election this year.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, told Mr. Daschle to "quit being critical without offering any alternatives."

"Even if you accept all that as a problem and a lot of it is, what is your plan?" Mr. Lott asked.

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