Thursday, March 30, 2006

Democrats yesterday stood with representatives of firefighter, police and veterans groups in a rally in which party leaders outlined their national security agenda.

Congressional Democrats said their plan would help rebuild the military and National Guard, help fight terrorism, promote increased use of alternative fuels, and fully fund veterans benefits as well as training and equipment for first responders.

“After five years of Republican incompetence, Americans have had enough,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Americans deserve “real security,” said Mr. Reid, charging that Republicans have been dangerously incompetent on many security issues, such as the Iraq war, hurricane response, port security, and diplomacy with Iran and North Korea.

At the Capitol Hill rally, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said: “Democrats stand together to ensure unparalleled military strength, to defeat terrorism and stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, and we intend to do it on the first day that we take over the Congress of the United States.”

Republicans, who had been tipped off about the event more than a week ago, countered throughout the day that the Democrats’ proposals amounted to nothing more than plagiarism and empty rhetoric.

The Washington Times reported in its March 18 editions that Democratic leaders planned to attack President Bush’s national security policies at a series of press events — appearing with active-duty military personnel, veterans and emergency responders — during the St. Patrick’s Day recess, culminating in a major policy rollout when Congress returned.

Democrats, however, accused Republicans yesterday of politicizing events.

“For years, Karl Rove’s playbook of distortion and distraction have been well-known, but I thought it was interesting today that the president decided to change the time of his [Iraq policy] speech to coincide with our event, and I think that shows their real fear of our agenda,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid.

Madeleine K. Albright, who served as secretary of state in the Clinton administration, was among the speakers at the Democratic rally.

“I have never seen such rank incompetence as I have seen now from the Bush administration,” she said.

Mrs. Albright referred to a recent White House gathering of former secretaries of state at which she said she told Mr. Bush, “Things were not going well in the Middle East, we were worried about Russian regression, there are four times the number of nuclear weapons with North Korea, and Iran knocking at the door, and no one is looking at or talking about Africa and Latin America.”

Democrats are said by top aides to be united in both houses of Congress around their election-year security agenda, planning to push it daily and offering agenda items as amendments to budget and homeland security bills.

One of the first tests will be an amendment to increase funding for the National Guard, adding back $244 million to recoup the estimated 17,000 troop slots cut in the current budget and return the total number to 350,000.

Democrats also said their plan would reduce the nation’s 60 percent dependence on foreign oil by 2020, by shifting federal funding toward alternative fuels such as bio-diesel, “clean coal” and other technologies.

If Democrats win back the majority, they said, they would expand health care for active-duty troops, military retirees and veterans.

Republicans yesterday were dismissive of Democrats’ rhetoric.

“I’m surprised that after months of searching for an agenda, Democrats have finally rallied around the Republican plan for success in the war on terror,” said first-term Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican.

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