- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Democrats and Republicans yesterday enthusiastically cheered President Bush's State of the Union address.
"As we gather tonight, our nation is at war, our economy is in recession, and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers. Yet the state of our union has never been stronger," Mr. Bush said, prompting cheers and a standing ovation from the members of Congress, top military brass and other dignitaries gathered to hear the address.
Mr. Bush's nationally televised address was an attempt to use his wartime popularity to advance his aims of defeating global terrorism and his domestic agenda: a prescription drug plan for senior citizens, patients rights protections and a stimulus package to create jobs and kick start the anemic economy with tax cuts.
Mr. Bush, whose 48-minute speech was interrupted with applause 77 times from both Republicans and Democrats, came across as confident and poised.
Mr. Bush has been riding high since the September 11 terrorist attacks, bolstered by a record high job-approval rating for a one-year president. His speech was at times uplifting, sparking waves of applause, and tempered by the remembrances of September 11, as when he singled out Shannon Spann, widow of the CIA agent killed in Afghanistan, Johnny "Mike" Spann.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri was scheduled to give the Democratic response after Mr. Bush's speech was delivered, and he planned to stress bipartisanship.
"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 in an advance text of his speech.
Mr. Gephardt is preparing a run for the presidency, seeking to present himself as the champion of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. In a speech before the Democratic Leadership Council, Mr. Gephardt demanded that the Bush administration spend billions more on social programs.
With Vice President Richard B. Cheney sitting behind the president in a rare joint appearance, along with interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai in the audience, Mr. Bush said his order of priorities were: winning the war on terrorism, boosting homeland security and reviving the sluggish economy.
He argued for a stimulus package that includes extending unemployment benefits as well as business tax breaks to spur new job creation.
"When America works, America prospers, so my economic security plan can be summed up in one word: Jobs," Mr. Bush said.
Yet in this election year, Democrats are trying to walk a fine line between supporting the president on the war against terrorism and criticizing him over the economy.
They have sought to tie the president and Mr. Cheney to the collapse of Enron, although to date have been unsuccessful.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, is seeking to connect the collapse of Enron with the flagging economy. He has even coined a new phrase to tie the administration to the massive energy conglomerate "to Enron."
"I don't want to 'Enron' the people of the United States," Mr. Daschle told reporters this week.
Still, Mr. Daschle said yesterday he hoped the president came to Capitol Hill "with a message of bipartisanship." Mr. Daschle enjoys strong support among his Democratic colleagues: Several fellow senators yesterday sported blue-and-white buttons reading, "I'm a Daschle Democrat."
Yet unlike Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, Mr. Daschle has not said that Mr. Bush's 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut has caused the recent economic slowdown.
Although the president's proposed budget will not be submitted until Feb. 4, Mr. Daschle already is charging the Bush administration with underfunding social programs.
First lady Laura Bush was joined by several guests in her VIP box high above the well of the House, including Teamsters President James P. Hoffa and Mr. Karzai.
Also in the audience were Christina Jones and Hermis Moutardier, flight attendants credited with stopping shoe-bomb suspect Richard Reid.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, who was criticized in September for yawning throughout Mr. Bush' speech to the nation, was in attendance last night. Mrs. Clinton was frequently seen cheering the president's proposals especially his plans to win the war on terrorism.
Mr. Bush yesterday appeared relaxed and calm about his speech, even popping in on reporters in the White House briefing room midday.
"My fellow Americans," he said, before breaking off and asking: "Red tie or blue tie?" The vote like much on Capitol Hill these days was evenly split.

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