Sunday, June 27, 2004

We’re finally seeing growing public realization the American economy is in full recovery — and that President Bush’s tax cuts are the reason.

Declining voter approval of Mr. Bush’s handling of the economy is turning around. The Pew, Gallup and Annenberg polls show his numbers on the economy have begun floating back into the mid-40s — and there’s still another four months to go before the November elections.

The Bush campaign is using the time left to tout the recovery in nonstop TV ads in a bid to push his numbers even higher, but don’t just take their word for it. Even the president’s severest critics, people who hate his tax cuts, are crowing about the economy’s comeback and saying the across-the-board tax-rate reductions are the reason for the yearlong business expansion.

Listen to The Washington Post’s ultraliberal economic writer Steven Pearlstein — no Bush fan, but who now credits the president’s tax cut policies for the vigorous economic revival:

“On that score, Bush deserves high marks,” he wrote recently. “He pushed through a series of tax cuts that, whatever their lousy long-term impacts, provided a significant turbo charge to the Federal Reserve’s high-octane monetary policy. Without them, the recession would surely have been deeper and longer.”

(Just for the record about the tax cuts’ long-term impact, budget officials now forecast the deficit will be about $100 billion less than expected this year because of rising federal tax revenues from a growing economy.)

As for John Kerry’s repeated charges the economy is terrible and this is the “weakest recovery” since the Great Depression, Mr. Pearlstein says that is “simply economic nonsense.”

Contrary to Mr. Kerry’s accusations that people are earning less, Mr. Pearlstein says an objective look at the economic data shows inflation-adjusted pay scales have “begun to pick up in the last year,” much of it in health-care benefits. “And because more people are working more hours, earning more from their investments and paying less in taxes, real disposable income has increased 4.6 percent in the last year,” he adds.

America’s economic recovery began more than a year ago, but that was not clear to many American workers who experienced, saw or read about continuing layoffs in their states and worried about their economic security.

Unemployment, always the last economic statistic to improve in every recovery, was slow to budge and, though business earnings were up significantly, retail sales climbed, manufacturing rose, and homes sold like hotcakes, workers saw little job market improvement. Then came the long-awaited rise in new job creation earlier this year. Little by little, Mr. Bush’s dismal job approval numbers on the economy began to climb.

The new jobs numbers gradually sank in — 248,000 jobs in May, 346,000 in March and 353,000 in April. Nearly a million net new jobs in the past three months, capping nine consecutive months of payroll gains that have pounded the unemployment rate down to 5.6 percent.

For some weeks now, the national news media have focused on the administration’s struggle in Iraq to crush the terrorist insurgency in preparation for the formal June 30 turnover of governing authority to the Iraqi provisional leaders, marking the end of the U.S. occupation.

But the U.S. economy’s health and its attendant bread-and-butter issues have always been at the very center of American politics. This election is no different. That is why Mr. Bush is investing his campaign funds in optimistic ads touting the economic recovery and Mr. Kerry is spending the bulk of his time on the stump talking down the economy, with ridiculous comparisons to Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression.

There are a little more than 18 weeks left before voters go to the polls — an eternity in American politics — and anything can happen to affect the outcome of this election.

But once under way, recoveries tend to build a head of steam that accelerates with each passing month. I see this recovery racing down the track at full throttle. Mr. Kerry knows he is losing the economic issue with each new jobs report. That’s why he is trying to keep the issue alive by talking about a “middle-class squeeze” that focuses only on health-care costs, college tuition, property taxes and gasoline prices.

To be sure, these are important issues, though the federal government has little if any impact on some of them. But they are not the core political issue of the economy’s overall health, which President Bush’s tax-cutting policies have inarguably improved — and which will, in the end, determine the outcome of this year’s elections.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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