- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

Democrats yesterday downplayed the strongest quarterly economic growth in 19 years, refusing to give President Bush credit and stressing still-lagging job creation, while Republicans gloated over the news.

“President Bush has compiled the worst economic record since the Great Depression, and it is going to take a lot more than one quarter of growth to clean it up,” said Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean in a statement.

“The real measure of a strong economy is when average Americans see real benefits and the people who lost their jobs under President Bush are working again,” he said.

Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat and presidential aspirant, did not even wait for the 7.2 percent growth in the gross domestic product to be announced yesterday before issuing a “prebuttal” on the “spin” he expected from the White House.

“The Bush administration has dug a hole so deep and so wide that it’s going to take a lot more than one quarter to get back on solid ground,” Mr. Edwards said.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, scoffed at such suggestions, saying yesterday’s “historic news” is proof that “the president’s economic ‘strategery’ is working.”

“It’s now clear, we are in the middle of a major job-creating economic recovery, or as the Democrats might call it, ‘a risky prosperity scheme,’” he said.

“Despite the rhetoric of the political prophets of gloom and doom, the president’s tax cuts haven’t thrown the economy into a tailspin,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “In fact, they have spurred a remarkable turnaround.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, however, claimed that “Democrats have offered a better approach to jobs and economic growth.”

“[Mr. Bush has] the worst record on job creation since Herbert Hoover,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “Mr. President, where are the jobs?”

The Labor Department announced yesterday that jobless claims fell again last week. It was the fourth consecutive week of claims below 400,000, the threshold viewed by most economists as a sign of recovery.

Mr. Bush credited his tax cuts for the surprisingly strong performance of the economy, but was careful not to gloat about the economic rebound. He did not even mention the GDP numbers during a luncheon fund-raiser at a Columbus, Ohio, hotel.

“Our economy is strong and getting stronger,” the president later told cheering workers at a small factory in Columbus. “[This is] the fastest growth we’ve had in nearly 20 years. Exports are expanding; investment is rising; housing construction is growing; the tax relief we passed is working.”

Mr. Bush took care to hedge his rhetoric about economic recovery. He even sought to pre-empt critics from attacking him when future quarterly growth rates inevitably fall short of 7.2 percent.

“We cannot expect economic growth numbers like this every quarter,” Mr. Bush said. “Yet by continuing a pro-growth agenda, we will sustain growth and job creation in this country.

“We’re on the right track,” he added. “But we’ve got work to do.”

The president’s campaign staff predicted that the Democrats’ plan to focus intently on the economy will no longer hinder Mr. Bush’s re-election chances next year, but help it.

“We will focus on the president’s leadership on the economy,” said Bush-Cheney spokesman Scott Stanzel in an interview.

He credited the Bush tax cuts with stimulating the economy by allowing people to keep “more of their own money.”

“By contrast,” Mr. Stanzel said, “our nine opponents, to a person, want to take more of that money away from Americans by raising taxes.”

Stephen Friedman, head of the president’s National Economic Council, admitted that “job creation has clearly not fully taken hold, even though there appears to be stabilization,” but the report of strong corporate profits augurs well for the future.

“A good sign is that corporate profits can tend to lead to capital investment and to job creation,” Mr. Friedman said.

Greg Mankiw, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said that though economic growth for the final quarter of the year will not likely match the last quarter’s pace, it should at least reach the historical average of 3.3 percent.

“That should be enough to get the labor market going and get people back to work,” Mr. Mankiw said.

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