- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

President Bush upstaged a Democratic rally yesterday as he arrived at the Capitol to encourage Republicans to continue promoting his agenda.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who complained recently that television networks were ignoring them in favor of Mr. Bush, had to compete at their outdoor rally with the din of U.S. Park Police helicopters circling overhead to monitor the president's arrival.
As Mr. Gephardt spoke about "what real people want in America," some of the crowd turned to see the president's motorcade as it pulled up to the Capitol, and a few tourists waved to the president.
Inside, at a closed-door meeting, Mr. Bush told House Republicans that his "top priority" is keeping Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois in his job by keeping a Republican House majority in the midterm elections. Republicans responded with a standing ovation.
Mr. Bush also criticized Senate Democrats for not approving a federal budget and called on Republican lawmakers to enforce fiscal discipline.
"The Senate can't pass a budget, so I will be the budget enforcer," Mr. Bush said.
Conspicuously absent from the Republican rally was House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, who is fighting the administration's decision to kill the Crusader weapons system that is built in his district.
"Chairman Watts couldn't make the meeting and had some pressing matters he had to work on, including Crusader," a Watts spokesman said.
Mr. Bush urged passage of his faith-based initiative, which has been stalled in the Senate, calling it the most important social program of his presidency.
At the Democrats' rally, leaders touted their agenda and criticized Republicans on prescription drugs, Social Security, pension protection, education and the environment.
"The Republican House leadership in the last 18 months has embraced an agenda of hype, illusion and rhetoric," said Mr. Gephardt. "This leadership is out of step with what real people want in America. They have put special interests ahead of the priorities of hard-working families."
The two Democratic leaders said that while they stand by the president on the war on terrorism, Republicans are doing a poor job on the domestic agenda.
"People want this Congress and this administration to respond just as seriously to these concerns as we are responding to the war on terrorism," said Mr. Daschle. "Democrats in the Senate and the House are united in our determination to do just that."
But House Republicans poked fun at the Democrats' event, taking a swipe at the Democrat-controlled Senate.
"The shortest news conference in town they have no agenda," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican. "The majority in the other body is driven by a combination of incompetence and malevolence, and all they stand for is stopping whatever we try to accomplish."
Mr. Bush didn't stop to talk to reporters about his pep talk, but those in the meeting said it was well-attended and very upbeat. "A lot of love," Mr. Armey said.
Those at the conference said the president thanked them for being his vanguard on a host of issues, including welfare reform and support for the war on terrorism.
"The president was here to encourage our Republican membership to continue on the road we've been on, it's been a very positive one, but we've got a lot of heavy lifting ahead in the next several weeks and months," said Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee.
As the president encouraged his party, Democrats laid out a specific list of complaints against Republicans.
Mr. Daschle said Republicans want to "drastically underfund" the education overhaul bill that the president signed into law early this year.
Mr. Gephardt said Republicans don't want to have a debate on Social Security "because they know their plan to privatize Social Security and cut Social Security benefits is deeply unpopular with the American people."


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