WASHINGTON -- Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes joined a coordinated Democratic assault on President Bush's economic growth package yesterday, charging it would lead to only "very weak, anemic" recovery and making clear that the White House blueprint was likely to be rewritten by Congress.
In both the Senate and the House, Democrats geared up for an election-year economic showdown with Mr. Bush.
Their political verve suggested economic legislation could be passed ahead of the March 20 deadline set by the president in his State of the Union message.
"The president now wants action. We want action. There's going to be action," said Mr. Sarbanes, D-Md., chairman of the Joint Economic Committee and co-author with Budget Committee Chairman Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., of an alternative economic stimulus package.
The tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee will both hold hearings on Mr. Bush's package and Democratic alternatives next week in a concerted response to voter alarm over the economic plight of the country.
The House Joint Committee on Taxation joined the fray yesterday, releasing an "alarming" analysis that claimed the "unfair" Bush capital gains tax cut helps mainly the wealthy, with individuals earning more than $100,000 yearly getting 70 percent of the benefits.
Mr. Bush defended his plan yesterday in his annual "Economic Report of the President." It portrayed his proposals as TC balanced package that will produce a sustained recovery by the middle of the year without adding to the deficit.
"Our outlook is that after a sluggish period of growth the economy will begin to improve as we head toward the middle of the year," said Michael Boskin, chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers.
The prospects and strength of the recovery would "improve mightily" if the Bush recovery package was approved by Congress, he said.
But the chances of that appeared to be slight as the Democrats produced a battery of charts and graphs to dramatize the plan's perceived flaws and to disparage the administration's economic record.
Mr. Sarbanes said it took "a certain amount of chutzpah" for the administration to "discover" the country was in recession after arguing it was not as late as December.
"This administration has been a day late and many dollars short in trying to address this economic situation in which we find ourselves," Mr. Sarbanes said.
Assuming that all of its proposals are passed by Congress, the administration predicted an economic growth rate of 2.2 percent. That is less than half the traditional post-recession recovery rate of 5 percent or 6 percent growth.
"The point that needs to be understood is that even if technically [the country gets] out of recession, even by their own forecast they see a very weak, anemic economy that will leave us with all of the economic ills we are trying to confront," Mr. Sarbanes said.