- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Calling President Bush’s State of the Union address re-election campaign rhetoric and not a vision for the nation, Democrats said Mr. Bush has weakened America’s image abroad and ignored its basic needs at home.

“He has pursued a go-it-alone policy that has left us isolated abroad,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi after Mr. Bush’s address. “America must be a light to the world, not just a missile.”

During his speech, Mr. Bush listed more than 20 nations with troops in Iraq alongside Americans. Republicans cheered and Democrats sat on their hands.

The cost of that action, Mrs. Pelosi said, “steals the resources we need for education and health care here at home … $120 billion and rising.”

“More importantly, American troops are enduring almost all the casualties,” said the Californian Democrat.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said Mr. Bush’s speech “stuck it to those who thought getting rid of Saddam [Hussein] didn’t make America safer.”

“It was an aggressive I’m-not-going-to-take-anymore-junk speech,” said the freshman senator. “I liked it.”

Many Democrats agreed with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota who said that “the state of our union is strong,” but they added that the economic recovery Mr. Bush touted hasn’t arrived.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, called the speech “very disappointing.”

“He said we’ve come through a recession,” Mr. Levin said. “Well, we haven’t come through a recession where I live.”

Mr. Daschle blamed the slow recovery on Mr. Bush’s tax cuts, which he said have “led to an economic exodus.”

“Instead of borrowing even more money to give more tax breaks to companies so that they can export even more jobs, we propose tax cuts and policies that will strengthen our manufacturing sector and create good jobs at good wages here at home,” he said.

When Mr. Bush implored Congress to make permanent those tax cuts — which will expire over time — the boisterous Republicans sprang to their feet clapping and hooting.

Even some Democrats, such as Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, stood on the Democratic side and applauded tax cuts. Seated beside him was Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who remained seated.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said before the speech he expected Mr. Bush to deliver a Democratic one.

“He has to come to our side on a lot of issues he is losing ground on — the high cost of health insurance, jobs and quality education,” Mr. Durbin said.

Afterwards, however, he said he was “shocked” that Mr. Bush hadn’t done so.

House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer said the president has neglected homeland security, particularly port security. Democrats want more inspection of cargo at the nation’s ports and greater resources for first responders, to ensure they have the technology to communicate with each other in real time.

“We believe the administration’s fallen short as far as our port security,” Mr. Hoyer said.

He also said the White House has failed to address education as promised in 2001.

“In education, we promised to leave no child behind, but this president now proposes going to Mars, where there is no education for children,” Mr. Hoyer said.

Sen. Rick Santorum, Republican Caucus chairman, eyeing another term for Mr. Bush, said the speech was a “great story” about what the president has done for the American people in the past year, putting more money in their pockets and securing the nation’s interests in the Middle East.

He said it is unlikely Congress will get any of the president’s policy agenda set forth in the speech during this year.

“The legislative pickings are slim this year. We have three [Democratic] members of [the Senate] running for president. This is a speech for the next five years,” he said.

One agenda item that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, wants to get done at all costs is reducing the high numbers of Americans without health insurance.

“I commend the president’s plan to cover the uninsured. I put uninsured costs of health care under my leadership as my top priority,” Mr. Frist said.

He said although he was not sure legislation could be passed to cover more Americans, “I’m going to be aggressive in getting it done.”

At a briefing before Mr. Bush’s address, Mr. Frist said the deficit is a major headache for Congress that will have to be addressed in the near future.

The Republican Study Committee, a caucus of more than 90 House conservatives, urged the president to offset the cost of the new initiatives proposed in the State of the Union address with real spending reductions.

“The president has indicated that he will offset some of the cost of these new initiatives with other spending reductions,” said RSC Chairwoman Sue Myrick of North Carolina.

“In light of the current deficit, offsetting new spending is the only responsible thing to do. We will work with the president and the congressional leadership to offset new spending and eliminate other wasteful spending.”

One agenda item Mr. Bush called for — a new, more open immigration policy for working migrants — is controversial on both sides of the aisle.

“It’s a complex issue. There has been little rational discussion, so I hope we have hearings and hear what the American people have to say,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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