- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 2003

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush is expected to face more Democratic criticism than at any other time in the past 16 months as he returns to Washington today from his Texas ranch vacation.
Frustrated by the president's high approval ratings and their own new status as the minority party in both houses of Congress, Democratic lawmakers are already attacking Mr. Bush's domestic agenda, which he is expected to detail later this month in his State of the Union address.
At the same time, an increasingly crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls is criticizing Mr. Bush's foreign policy. One emerging theme entails accusing the president of failing to keep Americans sufficiently safe in the war against terrorism.
Not since before the September 11 terrorist attacks has Mr. Bush faced such intense partisan criticism. After the attacks, Democrats rallied around Mr. Bush for a number of months and then gradually resumed their criticism first on domestic policy and eventually on his prosecution of the war on terrorism.
But that criticism never reached the level that is expected to await Mr. Bush when he goes back to his regular work schedule tomorrow after a Christmas vacation of more than two weeks.
The Democrats' first fusillade is an economic stimulus proposal, which they will announce tomorrow in order to pre-empt the president's own proposal on Tuesday.
"I understand the politics of economic stimulus that some would like to turn this into class warfare," Mr. Bush told reporters on his ranch the other day. "That's not how I think. I think about the overall economy and how best to help those folks who are looking for work."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who has been forced to relinquish his Senate leadership post to a Republican, was so eager to criticize Mr. Bush's economic plan that he broke with tradition by prematurely releasing yesterday's Democratic response to the president's weekly radio address. The South Dakotan savaged the plan as a sop to the rich, whom he called "the wrong people."
"I intend to do everything I can to replace this misguided plan with a proposal for immediate tax relief for middle-class families tax relief that will actually spur economic growth," said Mr. Daschle.
The president's economic stimulus plan, which is expected to cost upwards of $600 billion, is merely one of many White House initiatives that Democrats are planning to attack. Others include making the 2001 tax cut permanent, drilling for oil in the Alaska wilderness and creating a prescription drug benefit that Democrats say is too stingy to seniors.
On Friday, incoming House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was asked by a reporter whether Democrats will "make nice" with the Republican Party on these issues.
"Make nice?" said the California Democrat, drawing laughter from reporters. "What's that?"
"We will be having differences of opinion," she added. "I hope, though, that we can do so in a way that does make nice. That is, about honest discourse, rather than just rancorous discord over and over again."
But according to Mr. Bush, such rancorous discord is already being voiced by Democrats who are frantically announcing their bids to unseat him in next year's election. Some Democratic hopefuls plan on blaming the president if and when terrorists launch another catastrophic attack on U.S. soil.
"I know there's going to be a lot of verbiage and a lot of noise and a lot of posturing and a lot of elbowing," Mr. Bush said last week. "To me, that's just going to be background noise. My job is to protect the American people and work to create confidence in our economy so that people can find work."
But the president is also mindful that his disparate handling of Iraq and North Korea is likely to draw even more criticism from Democrats. Mr. Bush wants to use diplomacy with North Korea which recently expelled United Nations inspectors and admitted to developing weapons of mass destruction while threatening military force against Iraq, despite Baghdad's decision to allow United Nations inspectors and its denials of having weapons of mass destruction.
The question of whether to go to war against Iraq is expected to come to a head in about a month, after inspectors provide a more detailed report of their findings.

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