WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats who asked for billions more in the budget, but failed to get their wish last week may have perked up at the numbers pledged in President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night, but it's clear that they dislike the priorities the president has set.
Democrats said the president's tax cutting proposals -- nearly $670 billion over the next 10 years -- completely miss the boat when it comes to stimulating growth in the economy.
"Americans ... wanted to hear real solutions to our pressing domestic challenges and a real strategy to make our economy stronger. Instead, the President continued to promote his misguided economic plan of massive tax cuts for the wealthy, which will not create jobs," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a statement after the address.
"President Bush is a likeable man, and all Americans hope that he succeeds," said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.. "But under President Bush, it's deja 'voodoo economics' all over again. In just two years, the president has squandered record budget surpluses and turned them back into enormous deficits that threaten to haunt us for decades to come."
Washington Gov. Gary Locke, who delivered the Democratic rebuttal to the president's second address, said, “Bush's 10-year, $674 billion plan to rejuvenate the economy, mainly through tax cuts, was ‘upside-down economics.’ It does too little to stimulate the economy now and does too much to weaken our economic future."
Democrats say they fear that the president's plan will continue to force employees out of jobs and will not provide the health care assistance many employed workers still fail to receive. They are also concerned that the president is leaving the nation vulnerable to attack because states do not have the capacity to pay for the homeland security priorities laid out by the federal government.
The president did offer $400 billion to help Medicare recipients choose prescription drug coverage plans. He also suggested $450 million to help disadvantaged children get the mentoring they need. Surprisingly, the president suggested giving $15 billion to help stop the spread of AIDS in Africa.
But the president did not address the growing deficit, said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who joined a chorus of criticism of the president.
Bush "has promised a strong economy, and the result of two years of his effort have been 2 million jobs lost, a deficit of now $400 billion, a plummeting stock market and 1 million people without unemployment insurance compensation," Daschle said.
The White House has said that the expected deficit for this fiscal year is $200 to $300 billion and could grow as priorities are added, but that the sum reflects only 1 percent of the gross domestic product and can be reined in if it needs to be.
Treasury Secretary nominee John Snow, at a confirmation hearing Tuesday, also said that the United States is not at the point where it should worry about deficits as it faces economic sluggishness.
Democrats were a little more cautious in their appraisal of the president's plans on Iraq.
Locke, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, urged Bush to continue to seek U.N. approval, particularly if the administration seeks to use military force against Iraq.
"We support the president in the course he has followed so far," including working with the United Nations to insist on strong weapons inspections, Locke said. But "we need allies today, in 2003, just as much as we needed them in Desert Storm and just as we needed them on D-Day in 1944."
Hoyer expressed his satisfaction with the president's measured response toward Iraq, particularly his willingness to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations next week to show the Security Council evidence of Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with U.N. resolutions.
"The second half of [the president's] speech was a serious and somber discussion of the security challenges that confront us worldwide and in Iraq. He did so because quite obviously the American people have concerns about whether he has made a compelling case to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein. The president's comments were extremely important in making this case," Hoyer said.
But Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said he will seek another congressional resolution requiring Bush to present "convincing evidence of an imminent threat" before sending troops to fight Iraq. Kennedy said Bush "did not make a persuasive case that the threat is imminent and that war is the only alternative."
Democrats have been keen to confront Bush, making arguments against his speech even before he delivered it. The tone is conspicuously different from the Democratic response last year, just four months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Since then, Democrats have lost the majority in the Senate and have lost ground in the House.
Republicans have countered that Democratic suggestions that the United States needs to commit its foreign policy to the approval of the U.N. -- sounds like defeat.
"Iraq must be held accountable for its continued defiance of international law. Yet the Democrats seem to be siding with the Germans and the French in doubting President Bush, giving Saddam Hussein still more time to deceive, delay, and defy the world," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. "We should do no less in Congress, and stand with the president as he confronts what everyone regards as a serious threat to our nation's security."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.