- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Democratic leaders said there is a "credibility gap" between what President Bush has promised and what he has delivered in the first two years of his administration, and they called on him to do better in tonight's State of the Union speech.
"The president's been saying all the right things, but doing very few of them," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "In the days and weeks after September 11th, this administration was clear and commanding in its leadership. But on just about every other issue before or since, it has been anything but."
In a "pre-buttal" at the National Press Club, Mr. Daschle and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Mr. Bush has made promises in the past on education, homeland security and environmental-cleanup efforts and then would not fight for the money to carry through.
"The state of the union will be judged not by the uplifting words the president uses tomorrow, but by the reality of the budget he submits next week. It is that document that must state our national priorities and values," Mrs. Pelosi said.
The leaders also questioned why Mr. Bush has prioritized handling Iraq over North Korea.
"I think the president made a huge mistake in ignoring Korea for about 18 months," Mr. Daschle said. "I think they ignored them in part because the Clinton administration had made some successful efforts at reaching out and building a relationship, and they felt it was necessary to depart from that policy for whatever reason."
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have called on the president to use his speech to make a case for continuing to pressure Iraq.
But yesterday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the president will focus more on domestic issues.
"Most of the State of the Union will be about improving America's economy, and providing greater access to health care for millions of American people, including senior citizens," he said, though he also said there "will be a section dealing with security."
Mrs. Pelosi said that from what she's heard, the president's health care proposal won't help those who need it.
"If news accounts are accurate, then the president's proposal is a benefit for HMOs, not for seniors. It essentially will force seniors out of traditional Medicare and into private HMOs if they want to obtain prescription-drug coverage."
But Republicans said it's wrong to make those criticisms before hearing the speech.
"The Democrats are so blinded by political ambition and shallow opportunism that they are willing to hold press conferences to criticize, in shrill and caustic tones, the positions and proposals of the president that are not yet known to them," Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot said through a spokesman.
"Their assessments are not just substantively wrong, but they miscalculate the American public's tolerance for such shallow political shenanigans," he said.
For their response to the address this year, Democrats have gone beyond the Capitol to tap Washington Gov. Gary Locke, chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association.
Mr. Daschle recently said the decision is part of a broader effort to let Democrat governors be more involved.
Mr. Locke is not the first governor to give a response. Republicans had Christine Todd Whitman, who was New Jersey governor at the time, give the response to President Clinton in 1995. In 1986, Charles S. Robb, then the Democratic governor of Virginia, responded to President Reagan's speech.

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