The leader of U.S. Senate is strongly criticizing President Bush for his handling of the economy in what political analysts are describing as the opening salvo in an election year strategy aimed at winning back control of both houses of Congress.
Senate majority leader, and possible Democratic presidential contender, Tom Daschle is blaming the president and fellow Republicans for a faltering economy and rising budget deficits.
Well aware of President Bush's popularity as commander in chief during wartime, Senator Daschle is leaving little doubt Democrats have found the issue they will use to go after Mr. Bush and fellow Republicans this year, as they gear up for November's Congressional elections.
"At a time when we need to fight both a war and a 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," Senator Daschle said Friday. "We can short change critical needs such as homeland defense or we can raid the social security surplus."
In an address widely seen as framing the Democratic line of attack, Senator Daschle took aim in particular at last year's $1.3 trillion tax cut as ushering in a return to budget deficits which had largely been wiped out during the economic boom of the 1990's.
"We can go back to paying off our debt rather than risk running up the deficit. The first step is to get our economy on track by passing a real economic stimulus plan," Senator Daschle said.
During off-year elections - when the nation votes for members of Congress and not the Presidency - the party in power in the White House has traditionally lost seats in Congress, especially during times of economic slowdown. That's why political analyst Stewart Rothenberg expects the economy to become the centerpiece of this year's Democratic agenda, hoping Americans will hand control of Congress back to the party in November.
"Elections are almost always about the economy. It doesn't mean they won't be about other things, including terrorism," Mr. Rothenberg said. "But the Democrats know that if they can win the argument on who's to blame for the economic slowdown, they can do well in the November elections."
Aware of the Democratic strategy, Mr. Bush will be taking his own economic stimulus plan on the road, with appearances in California and Oregon beginning Saturday followed by a State of the Union address later this month.