after nearly four months of focusing on the war on terrorism. Officials in both parties said perceptions about Bush's handling of the economy could swing this year's congressional elections and the 2004 presidential race.
Throughout Bush's presidency, he has appeared determined to avoid the mistakes of his father's administration. The first President Bush was tremendously popular during the Persian Gulf War but was perceived by voters as having neglected issues at home. Bush also learned from his father that political capital is perishable. So he plans to use his early victories in the war on terrorism as leverage for domestic battles in coming weeks, party officials said, starting with an economic stimulus package that Senate Democrats have balked at passing.
The president did not name Daschle, but aides said the senator was the intended target of Bush's blistering scolding. "Somebody told me the funniest thing," Bush said. "They said there's some in Washington saying that the tax cut caused the recession. I don't know what economic textbook they're reading. The best way to come out of a recession is to say to the small-business person: We'll let you keep your own money."
Reaction: Daschle fired back with a statement that accused Bush of distorting his position. "No amount of hot rhetoric will get the economy back on track," Daschle said. "Let me be clear: I proposed short-term tax cuts to create jobs and generate investment and long-term fiscal discipline, not tax increases."
Taken together, this week's speeches by Bush and Daschle set the terms for the opening debate of the campaign of 2002, when Republicans will have to scramble to retain control of the House and Democrats must fight to keep the Senate. Bush said just before Christmas that politics were not on his mind but would be soon. Today, he said he was troubled by partisan wrangling over an economic stimulus plan that would help newly unemployed workers. "There are troubling signs that the old way is beginning to creep in to the people's minds in Washington," Bush said. "After all, it's an election year."
The Senate adjourned without passing an economic stimulus package, which under terms proposed by Bush and passed by the House would provide $30 billion in aid to workers who have recently lost jobs. Democrats have contended that the plan includes too many tax breaks for corporations and does not do enough for struggling workers.
Strategy: Both parties are launching media strategies to try to get the offensive on the economy and avoid blame for the recession. This afternoon, Bush toured a job training center in Oregon, which has an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent -- the nation's highest. On Sunday, the administration's economic team will hit the talk shows. Bush returns Monday from his 12-day vacation at his Texas ranch for a meeting with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and White House economic advisers.
The Democratic National Committee plans to deploy state parties, labor unions and lawmakers in coming days to make the case that rising deficits under Bush are jeopardizing the future of Medicare and Social Security.
Daschle said in his remarks that the tax cut championed and then signed into law by Bush was "by far the largest factor" in driving the federal budget from a surplus to a deficit. He did not join some other Democratic lawmakers in calling for the repeal of future phases of the tax cut, but warned about tax cuts that constrain spending on urgent priorities and threaten Social Security and Medicare reserves. "We support tax cuts that work," Daschle said.
The slump: The economy began sputtering in July 2000 and met the technical definition of a recession in March. Bush contended today that the continuing slowdown is not a result of his policies but largely because of the terrorist attacks. "There's no question that the attacks of September the 11th hurt our economy," Bush said. "Who wouldn't think it would? The attacks affected the confidence of the American people. It affected our psychology. It makes sense that it affected our psychology, but we're recovering."
Bush indicated he is examining possibilities for future economic proposals. "In tough times, people need a check to help them when they're unemployed," he said. "But what they need in the long term is a paycheck, and we ought to be asking the question: How do you create jobs in America?"
The president also used his weekly radio address to chastise Daschle, again without naming him. "I made my proposals to create new jobs and help dislocated workers on October the 4th, three months and 943,000 lost jobs ago," Bush said. "The House of Representatives accepted my proposals. But the Senate Democratic leadership would not even schedule a vote."
In the Democratic response, Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota condemned GOP priorities by quoting Will Rogers during the Great Depression: "The unemployed here ain't eating regular, but we will get around to them as soon as we get everybody else fixed up OK."
Administration officials contend that the Democrats' attacks will make them look partisan, while Bush will avoid that through presidential appearances such as today's tour of the Portland job center. "By refusing to pass a stimulus package, the Democrats are simply providing the president every opportunity to show Republicans are caring and compassionate about the needs of the unemployed," a White House official said. The official said a cable news channel at that moment was featuring a shot of the White House, with the words "Economic Offensive."
"Bring on the domestic agenda!" the official said. "We want Tom Daschle to go out there more often. The president will be seen as being above the fray."