Election-year politics provides excuses for not solving problems

Posted: Wednesday, January 09, 2002

The blame game has returned full-blown to Capitol Hill, and it's dispiriting to see. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle kicked things off Friday, declaring that President Bush's tax cut was responsible for the current recession. Bush, he said, has created the "most dramatic fiscal deterioration in our nation's history."

The president, in California Saturday to appear at an Ontario campaign rally, responded with equal ferocity, declaring that only "over my dead body will they raise your taxes."

Let's take a closer look at this rhetoric, within which hope of passing a reasonable economic stimulus package is being burned to a crisp. Daschle's charge is at least half-wrong. He also offers no way to fix the situation. Bush alone can't be blamed for the recession, though his insistence on sweeping cuts has worsened the nation's fiscal health. And Daschle, after all the finger-pointing, never said that the already-passed tax cuts should be delayed or repealed. Either Democrats believe that the government needs more tax money or they don't.

As for the president, his preemptive refusal to reconsider any part of his $1.35-trillion tax cut package is irresponsible, to say nothing of his continued push for new or extended tax cuts for wealthy families and big businesses. Before Sept. 11, he could maintain that the budget surplus allowed the federal government to carry out tax cuts. But now it's a different budgetary world. Sept. 11 hit an already faltering economy hard. Consumer confidence is shaky, and the unemployment rate has risen to a seven-year high of 5.8 percent. On top of that are billions of dollars in new spending for homeland defense.

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who voted for the tax cut package, has pointed out, the new situation means that the United States has to reassess. The fact is that no country has cut taxes while it's carrying out a war. The war on terrorism may differ from previous conflicts, but it still is forcing the government to devote enormous resources to the effort.

The stimulus package, trapped in a partisan wrangle even before the holidays, now looks like a sure sacrifice to this year's congressional elections. Bush and congressional Republicans will keep their version larded with goodies for big business, while the Democrats will keep trying to expand health care benefits and assistance to the jobless, without a way to pay for them. Some old-fashioned assistance is necessary, but the Democrats should focus more on forward-looking programs like training for high-tech jobs.

The main problem remains that Bush stands by every penny of his irresponsible tax cuts, while Daschle settles for blame without solutions. It's always a chore for elected officials to get serious about governing in an election year. But after voters saw the bipartisan effort that went into new security measures and a commendable education bill, it's exasperating to watch a return to squabbling gridlock. Democrats and Bush swap accusations while the country waits for an economic stimulus. It's election year, folks.

-- Los Angeles Times

Jan. 8

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