WASHINGTON – America is strong, but it could be much stronger, with a less unilateralist foreign policy and a more progressive domestic agenda, congressional Democratic leaders said in the official response to President Bush's State of the Union (search) address on Tuesday night.
"Let there be no doubt: The state of our union is strong -- stronger than the terrorists who seek to harm us and stronger than the challenges that confront us. At the same time, we know that our union can be stronger still," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search) of South Dakota.
Just as the president spent much of his address on foreign policy, so did the Democrats in their response.
"Even the most powerful nation in history must bring other nations to our side to meet common dangers. The president's policies do not reflect that. He has pursued a go-it-alone foreign policy that leaves us isolated abroad and that steals the resources we need for education and health care here at home," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (search) of California.
She hammered the president for the price tag and human cost associated with his administration's approach to confronting terror.
"He embraced a radical doctrine of pre-emptive war unprecedented in our history; and he failed to build a true international coalition. Therefore, American taxpayers are bearing almost all the cost -- a colossal $120 billion and rising. More importantly, American troops are enduring almost all the casualties -- tragically, 500 killed and thousands more wounded," she said.
Speaking from the the Mansfield Room in the Senate, Pelosi said that instead of alienating its allies, America should work with them and international institutions to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and keep them from terrorists. She said agreements and coalitions were necessary to advance the Middle East peace process and address the danger posed by North Korea.
Pelosi said the Bush administration has failed to meet the homeland security challenge, adding, "Democrats have a better way to ensure our homeland security."
That plan includes inspecting all containers coming into America's ports and airports, insuring that all chemical and nuclear plants in the United States have high levels of security and giving all first responders communication in real time.
"America will be far safer if we reduce the chances of a terrorist attack in one of our cities than if we diminish the civil liberties of our own people," she said.
Daschle focused on domestic priorities, drawing a stark division between the policies of the president and those of the Democratic Party.
"Our first challenge is to strengthen the economy -- the right way," he said. He emphasized job creation as the key indicator for economic recovery, which he said has not been good enough under Bush's watch.
Bush focused on health care in his speech, offering a variety of solutions to make health care coverage more affordable for businesses and individuals while unequivocally rejecting a government-run system.
On health care, Daschle centered his comments on the 43 million of Americans without health insurance, saying their inability to get coverage is a barrier to the American society Democrats want to achieve.
"Only when every American who wants to work can, when every child goes to a good school and has the opportunity to go further, only when health care is available and affordable for every American, when a lifetime of work guarantees a retirement with dignity and when America is secure at home and our strength abroad is respected and not resented -- only then will we have a union as strong as the American people. That's the America we want to build, because that's the union the American people deserve," Daschle said.
"Democrats are committed to strengthening the state of our union - to reach for a safer, more prosperous America. Together, let us make America work for all Americans - let us restore our rightful role of leadership in the world, working with others for 'the freedom of man,'" Pelosi said.