Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Top Democrats yesterday attacked the Bush administration over the budget deficit and an intelligence leak as the first full week of the short, election-year Congress began.

“I think it’s abundantly clear now that this administration is the most fiscally irresponsible we’ve had in our nation’s history,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, noting the “landmark” projection this week by the Congressional Budget office that there will be a $477 billion deficit this year.

“And what’s even more troubling is that deficit will double if the tax cuts proposed by this administration and enacted by Congress on a temporary basis are made permanent,” the South Dakota Democrat added.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he hopes the Republicans’ lack of concern over the burgeoning debt becomes a campaign issue.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, shot back that those who criticize federal spending “don’t even mention the fact that we’re at war,” and that increased defense and homeland security spending are necessary to win the war on terror. Mr. DeLay also said the president’s tax cuts actually have increased federal revenues.

“If we had not cut taxes, we would have less money than we have today,” he said.

Later yesterday, President Bush stressed areas of common interest between the parties as he met with Mr. DeLay, Mr. Daschle, and the rest of House and Senate bipartisan leadership to discuss the coming year.

“This is an election year. It’s the year where people say nothing can get done. We need to prove them wrong,” Mr. Bush said, citing “common interests” of fighting terrorism and creating jobs.

DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy said the Democrats’ criticism is “more about using their legislative position to fight the [presidential] campaign than to govern.” Mr. Roy said federal spending will indeed be a campaign issue this year, and Republicans “win on that” because spending increases were necessary to fight the war on terror, and Democrats just want to raise taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said everyone is concerned about the deficit, and that Congress should examine its spending and keep the economy growing by making the tax cuts permanent.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Daschle criticized the administration for dragging its feet on investigating who disclosed the name of intelligence agent Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak.

“Too many agents and analysts are beginning to wonder what will happen to them if they come forward with facts or analysis that contradicts official policies of the administration,” he said.

The leak happened six months ago, Mr. Daschle complained, and the Justice Department investigation has yet to produce the name of the leaker. Mrs. Plame was identified in an August column after her husband, former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, criticized the president’s Iraq policy.

Mr. Daschle and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, recently called for a General Accounting Office investigation to examine whether the White House took appropriate action after the leak occurred.

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