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Dems Counter: 'There Is a Better Way'

Democrats, who hope to regain control of the House and Senate this year, countered President Bush's take on the state of the nation, saying "there is a better way" to govern.

"The federal government should serve the American people. But that mission is frustrated by this administration's poor choices and bad management," Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said Tuesday.

"Families in the Gulf Coast see that as they wait to rebuild their lives. Americans who lose their jobs see that as they look to rebuild their careers. And our soldiers in Iraq see that as they try to rebuild a nation," said Kaine, a Democrat tapped to deliver the minority party's official response to the State of the Union.

"As Americans, we do great things when we work together. Some of our leaders in Washington seem to have forgotten that," he said in remarks prepared for delivery following Bush's evening speech before a joint session of Congress. "There is a better way."

Kaine, a rising star in the party who has been on the job just weeks after winning election in a state that Bush won comfortably in 2004, was delivering the Democratic Party's rebuttal from the governor's mansion in Richmond, Va.

The president's fifth State of the Union address comes during tumultuous times for the scandal-plagued Republican Party. Democrats are seeking to regain power in Congress by emphasizing GOP woes.

Ten months before Election Day, support for Bush has soured and public sentiment favors Democrats.

In a pre-emptive move earlier Tuesday, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and his House counterpart, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, criticized health care and energy proposals Bush was expected to trumpet.

Reid, D-Nev., said Bush's proposals for health savings accounts "are not a panacea to solve all the health care issues" and won't help "the people who need help."

And Pelosi, D-Calif., called Bush incapable of changing the United States' dependence on foreign oil. "They're captives of the oil and gas industry," she said of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Although Democratic aides said Kaine's speech was not overtly political, the Virginia governor sought to offer a sharp contrast between two different visions for the United States and suggested that the country can be stronger than it's been under Republican leadership.

Kaine criticized Bush on a host of issues, deriding the president for a "failure to manage our staggering national debt" and accusing the administration of "reckless spending." The governor bemoaned soaring health care costs and Medicare changes under Bush. And Kaine said Bush's education reform law is "wreaking havoc" on school districts while his immigration policies have created "a confusing patchwork of state and local efforts."

On Iraq, Kaine said the administration gave the public inaccurate information about the reasons for invading Iraq and then failed to give troops the best intelligence or body armor. Now, he said, Bush wants to decrease National Guard and Reserve troop levels and further reduce military and veterans' benefits.

"Our commitment to winning the war on terrorism compels us to ask this question: Are the president's policies the best way to win this war?" Kaine asked.

Assailing what he called a culture of partisanship and cronyism, Kaine also seized on the corruption investigations that have befallen Republicans.

"If we want to replace the division that grips our nation's capital, we need a change," he said. "Democrats are leading that reform effort."