- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Democrats mindful of President Bush's popularity kept to their strategy last night of praising his success in the war on terrorism and criticizing his domestic agenda.
"I want to commend the president for his strong and patriotic message," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who gave the Democrats' response to the State of the Union. "I can assure you of this: There were two parties tonight in the House chamber, but one resolve."
Mr. Bush's focus on increased spending for homeland security and national defense met with enthusiastic support from Democrats and Republicans.
"Now is not a time for finger-pointing or politics as usual," Mr. Gephardt said. "The men and women who are defending our freedom are not fighting for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. They are fighting for the greatest country that has ever existed on earth: the United States of America. We need to put partisanship aside and work together to solve the problems that face us."
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, said Mr. Bush's impassioned commitment to keep hunting down terrorists showed the administration was entering its "hunker-down resolve mode."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said Mr. Bush rose to the same standard in last night's speech that he set with his address to Congress after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"President Bush continued to show strong leadership for our country," Mr. Lott said.
Mr. Gephardt did make sure to utter in his televised speech the one word he knew Mr. Bush would not: Enron. Democrats view the story of the bankrupt energy corporation with close ties to the administration as a valuable political opportunity to exploit in an election year.
"We want to work together to create a universal pension system that follows a worker from job to job through life and protects employees from the next Enron," Mr. Gephardt said.
Democrats said Mr. Bush needs to turn his attention more to the economy.
"Everybody applauds the president on the conduct of the war, but I think there are legitimate criticisms on the domestic side," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat. "We've bailed out everybody but the employees who've been laid off."
Mr. Wynn said Democrats' strategy of praising the war effort but questioning domestic policies is just a recognition of reality. He said Democrats feel "there's no margin in attacking the president on the war, but there are a lot of good controversial domestic policy issues."
Mr. Bush is still lobbying Congress to approve a $75 billion bill to revive the economy. But he has run into opposition from Senate Democrats, who blocked a vote on economic relief in December because they said it contained too many tax breaks and not enough aid for the unemployed.
"We must remind the president that this economic struggle cannot be won simply by offering tax breaks for the wealthy and corporate America," said Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, vice chairman of the House Democratic caucus. "We Democrats do not share the president's values on how to stimulate the economy."
He said the administration's $1.35 trillion tax cut approved by Congress last spring has "robbed us of the critical resources needed to invest in homeland security and other domestic priorities."
Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, praised Mr. Bush "for his concentration on other domestic priorities in the area of strengthening Medicare, lowering the cost of prescription drugs for our seniors, renewing and improving welfare reform, continued education reform, speeding up a full economic recovery and creating jobs for all Americans."
Mr. Gephardt, who is considering a run for president in 2004, said he wants Mr. Bush to hold an economic summit at the White House next month to seek a compromise on economic issues.
"I refuse to accept that while we stand shoulder to shoulder on the war, we should stand toe to toe on the economy," Mr. Gephardt said. "We need to find a way to respect each other, and trust each other, and work together to solve the long-term challenges America faces."
Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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