Economy Takes Center Stage

The debate over what to do about the economy is starting back up again Friday, exactly where it was left off before the Christmas break -- with Democrats arguing against President Bush's plan one day before he is to hold a town hall meeting in California to push for his approach to economic security.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., will give a speech laying out a slightly reworked Democratic stimulus plan, similar to the Republican plan except for its absolute opposition to tax cuts.

Daschle will say that "the tax cut has taken away our flexibility" to deal with both a war and a recession.

The phrase suggests that Democrats want to go back and kill the tax cut, though Daschle is not expected to propose that. He will suggest, however, that the tax cut is responsible for the disappearance of the surplus.

Republicans note that only $40 billion of the tax cut has kicked in so far, and the cuts were supported by 12 Democratic senators.

Democrats are not calling for less spending, they actually want to spend more but not in the form of a rebate to taxpayers.

Bush will jump back into that debate on Saturday as he holds a town meeting with laidoff workers in Ontario, Calif.  The president will argue that tax cuts put money back in people's pockets and helps keep the economy going.

On Friday, at a portrait unveiling in Austin, Bush said he thought that the bipartisanship that he was able to foster in Texas could work in Washington.

He also has signed onto what officials say is a major new approach, offering to cover as much as 60 percent of laid off workers health care insurance.  That proposal died at the end of last year when Daschle refused to bring the economic stimulus bill to a vote in the Senate.

When the president returns to Washington monday, his first act will be a meeting with his economic advisers and with Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan.

In advance of that, the administration's economic officials will hit the talk shows this weekend to explain the need for a stimulus and try to put some pressure on Democrats to act.