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Daschle opens election year by attacking Bush’s tax cuts

SHARE Daschle opens election year by attacking Bush’s tax cuts

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is inaugurating an election-year debate over the economy with a fresh slap at President Bush's tax cuts and a call for a "growth agenda" for a country hammered by terrorism and recession.

"When our nation has urgent needs on all fronts, the tax cut has taken away our flexibility and left us with only two choices — both of them bad," Daschle, D-S.D., said in excerpts of a speech released Thursday.

"We can shortchange critical needs, such as strengthening homeland security, or we can raid the Social Security surplus and borrow money to pay for them," he said. "We cannot have it both ways."

In the speech, scheduled for delivery this afternoon, Daschle also expressed opposition to the three recommendations of a Social Security commission appointed by Bush. All three would let younger workers invest some of their payroll taxes in the stock market. Instead, Daschle said he favors allowing supplemental private accounts.

Daschle, the nation's most powerful Democrat, was speaking more than two weeks before lawmakers return to work from their year-end break, but at the same time Bush readies trips to Oregon and California to urge congressional action on recession relief.

Daschle, too, was proposing new efforts at passing recession relief, and outlined a tax credit proposal for companies that create new jobs. Under the plan, businesses would receive a tax credit equal to the amount of additional money they pay in Social Security payroll taxes for each new job.

Apart from attacking the tax cut, Daschle's speech included a call for more money for homeland security in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and greater funding for domestic programs such as education and assistance for workers hard hit by trade imbalances.

He also urged the president to submit a one-year budget proposal that includes a stimulus plan and a long-term plan that "restores fiscal discipline" while protecting the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.

As majority leader and Bush's nemesis during last year's struggle over economic stimulus legislation — Daschle also is mentioned as a potential White House contender — the South Dakotan's speeches routinely receive extensive news coverage.

In this case, aides went to the unusual step of releasing excerpts a day in advance, along with a number of proposals under the heading of the "Daschle Growth Agenda for America's Future."

Given Daschle's position as leader of the Senate majority, his speech appears to be the Democrats' opening volley in an election-year debate about an economy in recession and a budget seemingly headed for deficits after four years of surpluses.

The narrow Democratic majority in the Senate is at stake in next fall's elections, as is the slender GOP edge in the House.