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COLUMN

The Senate’s Recess Time

Dan Tortorice

If you followed the events leading up to the most recent Congressional recess, you might have very well asked yourself what the heck is going on. First, Congress informed us that the billion-dollar budget surplus was completely gone, and we were back to the days of budget deficits. Then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle made the indefensible claim that our current recession was worsened by Bush’s recent tax cut. In response our President said Congress would raise taxes “over his dead body.”

Next, the Senate leadership under Daschle proceeded to block a vote on the economic stimulus bill passed by the House. In the end, our Congressmen went home to their families for winter recess, giving no aid to the American people as they confront this recession.

It’s fitting that Congress’ break is called a recess, because the Democratic leaders in the Senate are behaving like a bunch of children. Constantly we heard the leadership discuss the tax cut despite it already being law. When they should have been discussing the issues at hand, they were content to complain about a political battle they had fought and lost -- and lost quite handily, with twelve Senate Democrats voting for the tax cut. This is not to say the Democrats’ anger at the passage of the tax cut isn’t justified, but to say that the Senate leadership would have better served the American people by hashing out an economic stimulus bill than by pouting about a lost political battle.

To make things worse, the Senate’s Democratic leadership then asked us to believe that the tax cut worsened the recession. Anyone who has studied a page of macroeconomics would know that the best cure for a recession is to pump money into the economy. This is what the tax cut did, albeit not in the most efficient way. Daschle and his fellow leaders lose credibility when they ask us to believe that cutting taxes has a contractionary effect on the economy.

The pouting and asinine economic theorizing is not in itself contemptible. What’s contemptible is how these attitudes prevented a vote on an economic stimulus bill. The U.S. economy is not in good shape. The economy contracted in the third quarter of 2001 and most economists expect to see an even sharper contraction to the end the year. The unemployment rate has climbed to 5.8 percent. It’s a sick economy in need of medicine. But Daschle, still miffed about the tax cut and not wanting Bush to score another political victory, failed to even schedule a vote on the stimulus bill that passed the House. In doing so he prevented even minimal aid to our economy. In times of recession the government usually extends unemployment benefits past the normal 12 to 26 week period a claimant is allowed to collect for. This was a much-needed measure in this recession, but because of Daschle’s obstructionism, those people who have lost their jobs will soon find themselves without a source of income. These people can’t wait until Congress comes back from its recess.

The Senate leadership needs to grow up. It needs to realize that America is in need of help. It needs its leadership to stop its childish political games and enact effective legislation to soothe the impact of this recession.

This recent action by the Democratic leadership, though, is part of a political strategy that has recently lead to substantial Democratic political losses. The Democrats have long relied upon voters seeing the Republican Party as the party of big business and the wealthy. And for a very good reason: that is the real Republican constituency. However, despite this reality, voter perspective is changing. Bush succeeded in selling his tax cut as a tax cut for all. Average Americans voted for him because he promised to give them money, even though he was clearly going to give much more money to wealthy Americans. The fact that Republicans are looking out for the interests of the wealthy is no longer enough to prevent the average American from voting Republican. The Senate leadership has not learned this lesson.

In the stimulus fight, they have again tried to portray the Republicans as enemies of the common man, arguing that no economic stimulus was better than the Republican-proposed stimulus, but the average American will not see it this way. With surging popularity for Bush, the average American will say that yes, as with the tax cut, the wealthy will benefit greatly from the stimulus package, but hey, we will benefit too, and we’d rather have this than nothing. They will see the Democrats as blocking the very help they need, blocking their unemployment benefits, and being inert in a time which called for decisive action.