President George W. Bush went a bit overboard trying to sell his economic-stimulus plan to small-business owners recently. In a Feb. 20 speech, Bush cited a new Blue Chip Economic Indicators survey predicting 3.3% growth in the gross domestic product in 2003. "The economists are basing this prediction on Congress passing tax relief this year," he said.
Then he took a leap: His package of tax cuts "makes sense when analyzed by the economists behind the Blue Chip forecasts," the President declared. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer later called the 3.3% forecast "a new element" in the discussion of the President's economic proposals.
Not quite. The Blue Chip forecast for 3.3% growth was issued in January, before the Bush stimulus plan was announced. Blue Chip's editor, Randell Moore, says it's his impression that most of the 53 economists who contribute their forecasts to the newsletter "thought some package would be passed." But that doesn't mean they were counting on any particular stimulus measures -- and they certainly didn't endorse the President's plan, Moore says. In the most recent Blue Chip report, the Bush package isn't even mentioned.
After complaining to the President's Council of Economic Advisers, Moore says he's now "satisfied" that Bush's team knows that the Blue Chip panel isn't endorsing the White House plan. "It was my understanding that the Bush people understood what I was asking for," says Moore, adding: "It was not their intent to imply that Blue Chip Economic Indicator was endorsing the President's plan."
That wasn't good enough for Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle of South Dakota, however. The Democrat has put out a press release claiming that the President's team "fabricated the numbers" for their economic plan and are "making up imaginary supporters," in a reference to the Blue Chip economists.
At least Bush seems to have his message straight now. Speaking to the National Governors Assn. on Feb. 24, he said the economy was forecast to grow at 3.3% if Congress passed "a" stimulus package -- not necessarily his.
By Kimberly Weisul in New York
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht