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Key US Senate Democrat Vows to Challenge Bush Agenda


U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, a leading voice in the Democratic Party, is urging fellow Democrats to challenge President Bush's second-term agenda.

In the wake of their defeats in last November's presidential and legislative elections, Democrats are assessing how their party needs to change to win mid-term elections in 2006 and the next presidential election in 2008.

Although Democrats lost seats in the House and Senate and thus have less ability to influence the legislative agenda, Senator Ted Kennedy says that should not prevent them from speaking out against Mr. Bush's initiatives if they run counter to Democratic Party principles.

In a speech in Washington, Mr. Kennedy, one of the most liberal voices in Congress, dismissed Mr. Bush's pledge to seek bipartisan cooperation from Congress to solve the country's problems.

"If the White House idea of bipartisanship is that we have to buy whatever partisan ideas they send us, we are not interested," said Mr. Kennedy.

Mr. Kennedy took particular aim at Mr. Bush's plan to reform the nation's retirement program, known as Social Security. The president wants to partly privatize the system to keep it solvent by allowing younger workers to invest part of their payroll taxes in stocks and bonds.

Mr. Kennedy says the plan is too risky, and would only benefit Wall Street. He says Mr. Bush exaggerated problems with Social Security to win support for his plan, much like he did when he overstated the threat posed by Iraq to win support for going to war in that country.

"We have an administration that falsely hypes almost every issue as a crisis,” he added. “They did it in Iraq, and they are doing it now on Social Security. They exploit the politics of fear and division, while ours is a politics of hope and unity."

Although his speech focused mainly on domestic issues, Mr. Kennedy did take the opportunity to renew his criticism of Mr. Bush's policy in Iraq, and he urged the administration to change course.

"At the critical moment in the war on terrorism, the administration turned away from pursuing Osama bin Laden and made the catastrophic choice instead that has bogged down America in an endless quagmire in Iraq,” he stated. “Our misguided resort to war has created much more and much more intense anti-American feeling than Osama bin Laden ever dreamed of. The sooner we reverse that distressing trend, the better."

Mr. Kennedy, who played a leading role in fellow Massachusetts' Senator John Kerry's unsuccessful bid for the White House last year, says he believes Mr. Kerry could have worked with the international community to end the war and bring U.S. troops home with honor.

Mr. Kennedy says he plans a separate speech on Iraq after that country's elections later this month.

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