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House GOP: Tax Cuts Boosting Stock Market

Seeking to take some credit for what they believe is an improving economy, House Republicans have begun attributing the stock market’s rise over the past few months to the $350 billion tax cut President Bush signed in May.

From a message perspective, the GOP’s strategy of explicitly tying its fortunes to the volatile market is a risky one. But Republicans believe they need to begin pushing the idea now in order to get credit for future gains, as the move is part of what will be a broader effort through the 2004 elections to push back aggressively against Democratic attacks on the GOP’s stewardship of the economy.

“Frankly, if we don’t make the connection no one else will,” said John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Last week, an assortment of GOP leaders held a press conference to argue that the stock market and other economic indicators have improved significantly since the House began considering the tax bill in March.

“We’re here today because perceptions really matter,” said House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio). “When the stock market believes Congress is skittish on the economy, it responds. And when the stock market thinks that Congress is bullish on the economy, it responds with positive gains and real growth.”

In addition to their own charts, the leaders also distributed a recent “Dear Colleague” letter from Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) that included a graph tracking the rise of the S&P 500 against the progress of the House version of the tax bill. (The graph did not include any mention of the Senate version of the bill, which in its original form differed significantly from the House version.)

At the same time, Republicans were quick to acknowledge that the markets have their ups and downs. Illustrating that point, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 29 points June 18, the day of the press conference, and an additional 114 points on June 19.

Even with days like that, House Republicans argue they have little to lose from talking the economy up.

“If the economy is rough, we’re going to get blamed,” said a GOP leadership aide. “It’s not going to increase our blame if we’ve made statements about our improving the stock market. Democrats have been … jawing down the economy. Somebody has to be the cheerleader and sit on the sidelines and clap.”

But House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) questioned the GOP message.

“So now are Republicans finally going to give President Clinton and Democrats credit for the roaring stock market and economy of the ’90s? And how about taking responsibility for the 3 million jobs lost and the skyrocketing deficit since the president took office?

“Instead of celebrating, the Republican Party and the president should be focused on creating jobs and passing a prescription drug benefit that actually helps seniors instead of confusing them,” the Minority Whip said.

If the market continues to improve over time, the House GOP could also use that as an impetus to put more tax-cut bills in the pipeline.

“The Republican House has passed a substantial tax cut every year since 1995,” Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said at the press conference. “I don’t see any reason we’d want to change that.”

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