Crocodile Tears Over the Economy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, January 8, 2008; 11:39 AM

The insincerity of President Bush's sudden concern about the economy and the plight of working Americans was plain for all to see yesterday in Chicago, where he acknowledged the existence of "economic challenges," but cited them as a reason to -- of all things -- make his tax cuts permanent.

Those would be the tax cuts, heavily skewed to the rich, that don't even expire for three more years.

With Washington abuzz over temporary, short-term stimulus measures that might stave off a recession and ease the pain on those likely to be hurt the worst -- measures like instant tax rebates, payroll tax cuts or increased government spending on infrastructure -- Bush demonstrated once again that he doesn't let troubling facts get in the way of his agenda.

"In a time of economic uncertainty," Bush said yesterday, "we ought to be sending a clear signal that taxes will remain low."

Neil Irwin writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush gave a wide-ranging speech about the economy yesterday, but proposed no new policies to deal with the emerging economic distress. Instead, he asked Congress to take up various actions that have been mainstays of the administration's second-term economic policy. . . .

"What he did not do was propose any government action to combat the immediate risks of a slumping economy. . . .

"Growing numbers of economists of varying political leanings have said it might make sense to enact a temporary tax cut or spending increase to try to ease the damage of the housing and financial crises."

Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "As Mr. Bush suggested in his speech on Monday, his top economic priority remains extending the tax cuts he began in 2001 and 2003 well beyond 2010, when they are scheduled to expire. . . .

"On Monday, Mr. Bush devoted much of his speech to warning that Congress should make his tax cuts permanent. But that change would do little to forestall a recession, because the tax cuts do not need to be extended for another two years. . . .

"By contrast, Democrats have a fundamentally different approach. Though economists who support the Democrats are divided about whether the economy even needs a boost, they almost universally are talking about temporary moves to support the people most likely to be hurt by a downturn. Those could include an increase in unemployment benefits, food stamps or job-training assistance; a temporary cut in the payroll tax for Social Security; and a tax rebate for middle- and lower-income workers. . . .

"A growing camp of Democrats . . . are pushing for a big, broad increase in spending on highways, bridges, mass transit and other infrastructure."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David M. Herszenhorn write in the New York Times that Bush may come up with a stimulus package of his own before his State of the Union address on Jan. 28. But: "If the past is any guide, Mr. Bush is likely to favor broad-based tax cuts of the sort he pushed through early in his presidency. Democrats are discussing more targeted relief -- tax cuts, spending programs or a combination of the two -- to help lower- and middle-income Americans who would be hurt the most if the economy falters.

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