- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid yesterday in a speech laying out Democrats’ agenda accused Republican leaders of being so consumed with partisan political “sniping” that they’ve neglected a troubled economy and a weak national defense.

“Democrats are the party of national security,” Mr. Reid said at the National Press Club. “And we have an agenda to defend America from danger.”

Mr. Reid’s speech was intended to outline his party’s priorities now that a truce has been reached in the Senate fight over judicial nominations. It included some of the most pointed political broadsides since last year’s presidential campaign.

“As of this month, more time has passed since 9/11 than the time between Pearl Harbor and the defeat of Japan. During those three years and eight months — 60 years ago — we invaded North Africa and Normandy, we freed people from the Philippines to France, Hitler lay dead and Tojo was in chains,” Mr. Reid said.

“But today Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, our homeland is still not secure, and we’re still not energy-independent, and — in many ways — Americans are less safe than we were before 9/11.”

The Reid speech was immediately dismissed by Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who noted that there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil since the hijackings of September 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000.

“Strong on defense? Improving the economy? Making America energy-independent? We had no idea the Senate Democratic leader had switched parties,” Mr. Bonjean said. “Welcome to the GOP agenda.”

Mr. Reid said Republicans have squandered the first five months of this Congress breaking the Democratic filibusters against President Bush’s judicial nominees, intervening in the Terri Schiavo case and trying to change the rules in the House ethics committee.

“Perhaps the greatest abuse of power is to have the ability to help but choose to do nothing,” he said.

Specifically, Mr. Reid said Democrats want to increase the military by 40,000 troops, raise the minimum wage and allow cheaper generic drugs to be imported even if they violate patents held by American drug makers.

Mr. Reid also said, “Americans are sick and tired of getting caught in the crossfires of partisan sniping.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) issued a response listing recent examples where Mr. Reid has participated in his own “partisan sniping,” including calling Mr. Bush a “loser,” suggesting Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is an “amateur” and describing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as a “political hack.”

“When Harry Reid recently predicted that the Democrats would remain in the minority next Congress, he apparently had this speech in mind,” NRSC spokesman Brian Nick said. “Senator Reid has officially joined Howard Dean to form the delusional duo.”

In yesterday’s speech, Mr. Reid also criticized Mr. Bush for not having vetoed any legislation.

“Even when this Republican Congress sent him bill after bill weighed down with pork or special-interest subsidies or runaway spending, he chose to keep his veto pen in the drawer,” he said, noting that Mr. Bush has said he will veto a bill allowing more federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research. “President Bush has threatened to veto it because the far right is demanding that he do so.”

Democrats, meanwhile, “have something better to offer,” Mr. Reid said. It’s a “reform agenda that will cleanse Washington,” strengthen national defense, “rebuild” the economy and lower health care costs.

Mr. Bonjean said he was glad to hear these agenda items.

“We hope that you’ll agree to move the energy bill that you’ve held up in the Senate,” he said. “And we hope this is a pledge not to raise taxes and to work with us on keeping America safe.”

Republicans also pointed to more good economic news. The economy has been growing at an above-average rate this year, managing to avoid the “soft patch” that economists had feared from rising energy prices and interest rates.

A report from the Commerce Department yesterday showed that the economy grew at a 3.5 percent rate in the first quarter, up from an earlier 3.1 percent estimate. Job growth also has picked up to more than 200,000 a month this year, and the unemployment rate has held steady at 5.2 percent, but wage gains have lagged behind at little more than half the 3.5 percent inflation rate.

In his speech at the National Press Club, Mr. Reid said he was relieved that a bipartisan deal headed off the so-called “nuclear option,” the rules change by which Mr. Frist had planned to break the judicial filibusters. Although it has not been universally embraced by Democrats, the deal, Mr. Reid said, could be more than “a momentary cease-fire before Washington’s trench warfare starts up again.”

“It can be a new beginning,” he said, “Because on issue after issue, there is a common-sense center in America that knows what it believes and can’t understand why this Republican Congress won’t get the job done.”

Patrice Hill contributed to this report.

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