WASHINGTON – On the steps of the Capitol Wednesday, just moments before President Bush was scheduled to arrive to rally House Republicans, Democrats staged an election year rally to blast the GOP for not getting the job done.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., led the charge.
"The Republican House leadership in the last 18 months has embraced an agenda of hype, illusion, and rhetoric. This leadership is out of step with what real people want in America," he told lawmakers and supporters seeking an election year issue to fling against a wildly popular president.
The criticism, however, flies in the face of public opinion polls. By better than half, most Americans think the country is on the right track, according to the latest Cook Political Report poll. A recent CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll says congressional approval ratings are at 57 percent, with Republicans and Democrats just about even. The president is coasting along at a 75 percent approval rating.
All that said, Gephardt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who is often criticized by Republicans as being an obstructionist who stops bills in the Senate, both blame Republicans for the fact that Congress is not doing more work on domestic issues.
"The American people want action, not rhetoric. They need an honest debate on the issues, not phony votes designed to confuse the issues," Daschle said.
They vowed to increase funding for education, preserve the environment, safeguard pensions, protect Social Security and reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
Republicans were also flummoxed by the "Securing America's Futures for Our Families" rally, which they said mimicked an event put on by Republicans in 1994, when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich introduced his "Contract With America", a to-do list of actions the Republicans wanted to achieve. Seven of the list's tenets became law.
Retiring House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said if Democrats want to complain, it ought to be about not having their own plan.
"You have to understand, the Democrats have no agenda. The majority in the other body is driven by a combination of incompetence and malevolence, and all they stand for is stopping whatever we try to accomplish in this presidency," Armey said.
Asked what he means by malevolence, Armey said Democrats are malevolent toward "anybody who wants to do reform in public policy and get better results in people's lives."
Armey said Democrats suggest that what really needs to be done is spend on a variety of social issues to help people, but that sometimes hamstrings people and makes them more dependent on federal programs, as opposed to releasing them from the government's grip.
House Minority Whip Tom Delay, the No. 3 Republican looking to replace Armey as the GOP majority leader, put out a ridiculing take on what he dubbed the real Daschle-Gephardt agenda:
"Obstruct; devise a to-do list in May of this election year; block energy independence; oppose permanent tax relief; stifle free trade; book trips to New Hampshire (a reference to presidential politics); and gripe about Gore."
The last measure is a direct hit on Gephardt and Daschle, who have traveled to New Hampshire, the first primary state, to weigh their presidential bids. That election is not until 2004, but Republicans think they can use it to mock Democratic motives in the coming election.