House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer yesterday flouted President Bush's threat to veto spending bills for being too costly, and he chided Republicans for criticizing the fiscal restraint of the Democrat-led Congress.
"They don't have anything else to say. They have a failed administration, a failed Congress preceding this Congress," the Maryland Democrat said. "The American public turned them out."
In a wide-ranging interview [Transcript] at his Capitol Hill office, Mr. Hoyer told The Washington Times that Democrats would keep pushing for a troop pullout from Iraq and that the House was unlikely to take up immigration — either as a comprehensive bill or in pieces — after it died Thursday in the Senate.
He said he was confident his party still would control the House of Representatives after 2008, in large part because of the obvious public dissatisfaction with Mr. Bush and Republicans in general.
"I think this administration is probably the most unpopular administration ... to rival [Richard M.] Nixon's," he said.
Mr. Hoyer said Republican charges that the Democrats are taxing and spending their way through the appropriations process rings hollow.
"That is bogus. It is a tired, old — the only argument Republicans ever have any success with," he said.
Mr. Hoyer said Democratic spending increases are modest and necessary, and he questioned how Mr. Bush could object to $23 billion extra in a $2.7 trillion budget, especially when the additional spending goes to education, health care, veterans, police and firefighters.
"Eight-tenths of a [percentage] point more on domestic spending, and he is going to veto the bill without even seeing it," Mr. Hoyer said. "Give me a break."
Mr. Hoyer, who noted that the federal deficit ballooned from $5.4 trillion to $8.8 trillion on Mr. Bush's watch, also emphasized that the Democrats were not raising taxes by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire.
"We haven't passed any statute increasing taxes," he said, adding that Republicans passed the tax cuts with a 2010 expiration date and didn't vote to make the cutspermanent for the six years they controlled both the White House and Congress.
Regarding the war in Iraq, Mr. Hoyer called the administration policy "incompetent" and said the American public overwhelming believes the president's war plan has failed.
"I'm appalled when the military wanted to plan for contingencies for a longer-term stay in Iraq initially, and [former Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld said, 'We're not going to plan for that,' Mr. Hoyer said. "Rumsfeld's theory was, the flowers would be strewn in the street, the palms and hands would wave and everything would be sweetness."
He said Democrats would keep pushing for a pullout, starting when Congress returns from a weeklong July Fourth recess with a bill that would immediately start a troop withdrawal and complete the pullout by April.
He said that under the plan — which is similar to the pullout timetable Mr. Bush vetoed last month — a limited U.S. force would remain in Iraq to protect bases, train Iraqi troops and conduct targeted anti-terrorism operations.
However, he stressed that the United States should not have a long-term presence similar to that in Korea and Europe.
He said Democrats were working on plans to stop sectarian violence from spilling across Iraq's borders and to keep Iran and al Qaeda in check after a U.S. pullout.
"There are all sorts of things that need to be put into this plan," he said. "What we are doing now is giving the administration sufficient time to adopt a responsible plan."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, backed down in May when the president vetoed the pullout plan that was attached to emergency troop funding.
Mr. Hoyer said next time would be different.
"We are going to be vigorously fighting for a change of policy," he said. "The legislation that we present to the president, if the president vetoes it, we are going to send him more legislation which ... mandates a change of policy."
Aside from challenging the war, Mr. Hoyer said most of the Democrats' agenda — increasing the minimum wage and student aid — passed with solid Republican support in the House.
"We are not passing a liberal agenda or a conservative agenda," he said. "We are passing an agenda that I think speaks to the desires of the American public and what they voted for in '06."
Mr. Hoyer said he was sure Republicans would attempt to brand his party's incumbents in tough districts as far-left "Pelosi Democrats," but he said they were ready to rebut the label.
"I think we can show that we are passing legislation that has broad support from the American people," he said.
c Christina Bellantoni contributed to this article. A transcript of the interview is available at www.washingtontimes.com.