What are critics of President Bush to make of the Congressional Budget Office's report last week that the nation is recovering nicely from recession and is actually on track to show a small surplus by year's end?
The non-partisan CBO, whose reports have been gloomy for months, has been the Democrats' best source for attacking the administration's economic policies. CBO's pessimism gave rise to partisan charges of "the Bush recession," triggered by "reckless tax cuts" that turned "Clinton surpluses" into ruinous deficits "for as far as the eye can see," thereby imperiling Social Security and all other popular non-military federal programs.
With criticism of the commander in chief's conduct of the war on terrorism politically off limits, Democrats' 2002 congressional campaign game plan called for hanging the recession around Bush's neck.
They must be crushed. What do Democrats do now if the CBO - seconded by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan - is right that the economy's getting healthy? They certainly won't call it the "Bush recovery" (although Republicans surely will.) Yet having blamed the recession on Bush, how can Democrats logically not credit him for the recovery?
That's easy. They can take the credit themselves, contending the economy is improving in spite of Bush policies, not because of them. They could even talk up the "Daschle recovery," arguing that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's, D-S.D., blockage of the administration's ambitious stimulus package actually helped the economy get better.
And, ironically, they may have a point. People were looking for stability. When Congress fiddles around with the economy too much - it had already cut taxes and sent out refund checks - it makes employers and investors hold back, nervous about what to expect next.
Besides, the Fed board's string of interest rate cuts had more to do with getting the economy back on its feet than anything Congress could or would do.
Perhaps Daschle's do-little policy was the right medicine after all, notwithstanding that he likely designed it to stifle recovery until after the November elections to help Democrats.