Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle thirsts for significance.
So much so that it seems the Senate just won't do for someone of his psychological profile. No, Daschle wants autocratic control over the entire empire. With his gaze fixed squarely on the 2004 presidential election, the Senate majority leader has begun a campaign to undermine the domestic policy of President Bush.
The Republican tax cuts caused the "most dramatic fiscal deterioration in our nation's history," barked Daschle in a speech on Friday. Previously, Daschle claimed that Bush's tax cuts "probably made the recession worse."
The incendiary remarks come just weeks after Daschle squashed the president's economic stimulus package by refusing to even schedule a vote for the stimulus plan in the Senate. This, despite the fact that the House passed the bill and a dozen Senate Democrats supported Bush's tax cuts.
Just one more thing: Two-thirds of the American people support the president's economic plan.
It does not matter.
Plainly, Daschle is gearing up to run against the Bush tax cuts in the 2004 election. Already he is making the case that the tax cuts, not the Sept. 11 attacks, are the root cause of our current economic woes. "Sept. 11 and the war aren't the only reasons the surplus is nearly gone," snarled Daschle recently. "The biggest reason is the tax cut"
This seems an odd remark given that the Bush tax cuts only accounted for a $38 billion reduction in the national surplus this year. By comparison, the country has budgeted $329 billion in the war on terrorism. Presently, the Pentagon is seeking an additional $20 billion to help secure the home front.
Get it? The war on terrorism, not the tax cuts, is the real drain on the current economy.
Daschle realizes this. He also knows that the swelling support for the way President Bush has conducted the war in Afghanistan makes him largely unassailable on foreign issues. That leaves ripping his domestic policy to shreds as the only recourse. Consequently, Daschle will have no part in supporting Bush's stimulus plan.
Daschle's strategy is reminiscent of the 1992 presidential campaign when Bush Sr. failed to capitalize on the Gulf War victory, leaving himself vulnerable to attacks on domestic policy issues. Or, as Clinton spin-doctor James Carville famously observed, "it's the economy, stupid."
In strictly pragmatic terms, sabotaging President Bush's economic package is a shrewd move by Daschle. After all, a bad economy is something he can spin into a presidential bid in 2004.
Refusing to even schedule a vote on Bush's economic stimulus package, however, does not bode well for the 943,000 people who lost jobs in the wake of Sept. 11. It would be nice if Daschle could place their needs over his own political ambitions.
Or, as Sen. Trent Lott put it, " [Daschle] should lead,
follow or get out of the way."
Unhappily, he seems resolved to do none of the above.