Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- This week's plunge in global financial markets sent shock waves through Wall Street and Washington, raising doubts that a tepid, onetime tax rebate can stimulate a slowing $13 trillion economy.

The Federal Reserve Board's emergency three-quarter percentage point cut in its federal funds rate seemed to ease the tremors being felt here while sending a message to overseas stock markets that the Fed would do whatever is necessary to keep the U.S. economy from falling into a recession.

But voter pessimism about long-term growth still dominates the election-year agenda amid growing complaints from supply-side tax cutters that much more aggressive measures are needed to strengthen the economy.

With the economy sending almost daily signs of weakness in its financial markets, corporate earnings, consumer spending, mortgage foreclosures and job losses, Republican strategists say it will take more than President Bush's short-term stimulus to turn things around before this fall's elections.

"Politics is motion. I don't think Republicans can afford to sit idle. We have to figure out some way of putting together the big plan for a stimulus. Inactivity is deadly when it's in a period of economic weakening. This is the time to be aggressive," said David Smick, a veteran economic strategist who advises Republican policymakers and global business leaders.

"They need a big package, and they need to make it an issue in the fall," Smick told me. He is not predicting a recession. "But it's going to feel like one. Last year's fourth quarter and the current first quarter will be very weak. They will miss a recession but not by much," he said.

What has Smick and government policymakers worried is the long lag time between policy changes and when they are reflected in the economic data, plus an added lag before most Americans feel them.

The Fed's interest-rate cuts have a lag time of at least eight months before the stimulus is felt. "That probably means the economy will be improving, but it won't be seen in the data later this year," he said.

The first President Bush faced a similar situation in the 1992 presidential election at a time when the economy was making a comeback from a recession. "But it wasn't showing up in the data. I think the Republicans could find themselves in the same situation this time around," Smick said.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.