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White House blasts Cheney for recession remark

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House lashed out Monday at GOP vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney's suggestion that the nation was moving toward an economic recession.

"Mr. Cheney was part of the 'Whip Inflation Now' team and he was part of a Bush administration that had a pretty anemic growth record, but that doesn't mean he's qualified to talk about the state of the economy today," said White House Press Secretary Jake Siewert. The anti-inflation team served in the Ford administration.

Siewert said the Clinton administration found large deficits, unemployment and debt when it arrived, and has since turned all three around while increasing productivity and lowering interest rates. The U.S. economy remains fundamentally sound, he said, adding that the nation's top private sector economists in November projected economic growth for the coming year at a minimum of 2.5 percent.

Economists declare a recession when the U.S. economy registers two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth.

"That's what the private sector, the smart people, the smart money, are saying about the future, and I don't think any spin coming out of that political campaign should be seen as much more than just spin," Siewert said.

On Sunday, Cheney said there was "growing evidence" that the economy was slowing.

"We're seeing it in automobile sales and a lot of other areas, earnings falling off for corporations. And we may well be on the front edge of a recession here," he said on NBC's "Meet The Press."

Senior White House aides interpreted Cheney's remarks as a pre-emptive move to reduce economic expectations for a Bush-Cheney administration and to build political support for a tax cut in the 107th Congress, which convenes in January.

The reference to Cheney's involvement in Ford's infamous WIN campaign is particularly biting. The Ford White House, in which Cheney was the chief of staff, produced thousands of Whip Inflation Now buttons to boost the national mood about beating back rising prices.

Many conservative economists consider that campaign the nadir of GOP economic thinking, since, they argue, it was President Nixon's wage-and-price controls that distorted market forces and fed inflationary pressures after they were removed. Instead of attacking economic fundamentals by cutting taxes or cutting spending, they say, Ford merely fed an image of impotence by printing WIN buttons.

In reaction, these theorists and many other conservatives flocked to Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign platform of lower taxes, budget cuts and lower interest rates to stimulate growth and reduce inflation.

Cheney was in Congress during the Reagan years, and he joined the Bush White House as defense secretary, where his role in economic policy was non-existent. Still, the Clinton White House wasted no time in pinning the Ford and Bush economic records to Cheney. The Bush White House presided over weak economic growth -- 1.7 percent per year over its four years -- and a recession in 1991.

"We understand that Mr. Cheney has a lot of hands-on experience in big-time economic downturns, but I don't think that makes him qualified to assess the current state of our economy," Siewert said.


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Monday, December 4, 2000

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