WASHINGTON – Bush, in his first speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, generally was received warmly by Democrats, who joined Republicans in cheering his promises to increase funding for education and defense and double the budget of the National Institutes of Health.
But there was near universal opposition to Bush's 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax proposal, which Democrats said was too big, too weighted to the rich and too optimistic in its projections of future government surpluses.
Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate Democratic leader, said in the Democratic response to Bush that when interest on the debt and other hidden costs are included, the cost of the Bush tax plan is well over $2 trillion. "It will consume nearly all of the available surplus — at the expense of prescription drug coverage, education, defense and other critical priorities."
Daschle and other Democrats made comparisons to 1981 when new Republican President Reagan pushed through a big tax cut with a big boost in defense spending, contributing to a sharp jump in deficit spending.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that in 1981 he listened to those who said he should give the new president a chance. But "it took years for us to work our way out of the deficit ditch," he said. "We should not engage in this colossal gamble."
"In the early 1980s, under another charismatic Republican president, we passed tax cuts that sounded good at the time but led to years of deficits and put our economy in bad shape," said Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, ranking Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Bush, who is offering his 2002 budget proposal to Congress on Wednesday, insists that he can meet the nation's priorities, protect Social Security and Medicare and still give Americans the tax cut they deserve. Democrats have proposed $900 billion in tax relief, saying anything larger than that would endanger fiscal responsibility and undermine efforts to pay down the public debt.
"If what the president said tonight sounded too good to be true, it probably is," said House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, who joined Daschle in the post-speech response.