Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

And Now the Budget Battle Begins

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

And Now the Budget Battle Begins

Article excerpt

The Monitor's Richard L. Strout was the smartest observer of the American political scene I've ever known. Dick would boil it all down. "It's the economy," he would say, "the outcome always turns on the economy." Already the economy is the issue for the congressional elections next year and for the presidential election of 2004.

The president calls the recent economic slowdown a "correction" and asserts that his big tax cut will soon kick in and bring about better days. But should that optimism not prove out, Mr. Bush is set to capture the issue anyway by claiming that the economic lag began in the last year of the Clinton administration and that Bill Clinton is to blame. It's a no-lose approach. But the voters might not buy it.

Indeed, the Democrats are counting on the public not buying it. Recently, both Democratic leaders Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt were telling reporters over breakfast that Bush already is being widely perceived as being responsible for the protracted slowdown in the economy.

Both of these leaders say that Bush's tax cut has done nothing to help the economy - that it might even bring on a recession.

Which side is right? The economists I read and listen to seem divided. Some see the slowdown bottoming out by late fall or early winter and the economy then starting gradually to turn up. Others are more pessimistic, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel - at least for some time now.

So the blame game on the economy is heating up in Washington. But the current battle in Congress focuses on the shrinking surplus and how it is to be spent. Bush's strategy is becoming clear. Certainly that big tax cut of his was to boost the economy (and maybe it will). But his real purpose was to cut back on the billions that otherwise would have been spent by Congress (mainly the Democrats) on social programs.

Bush himself is pushing hard for one big, expensive social program: his initiative to improve education. …

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