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US Democratic Party Leaders Challenge Bush on Iraq, Domestic Issues


Ahead of President Bush's State of the Union Address next week, Democrats are challenging the president on his policies in Iraq, while claiming victory on the domestic front after the first two weeks of the new Congress. VOA's Dan Robinson has a report from Capitol Hill.

With the State of the Union Address coming up next Tuesday, House and Senate Majority Leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid used a National Press Club appearance Friday for what is called a pre-rebuttal.

Congresswoman Pelosi said Democrat's success in pushing six key domestic agenda items through the House kept a promise they made to Americans in the November election. "We did what we said to the American people in the first 100 hours [of Congress], [that] we would signal change, we would address issues relevant for their daily lives, and we would do so in a bipartisan way, and we did," she said.

Republicans would argue with Pelosi's claim of bipartisanship, and continued to complain that Democrats bypassed normal rules in pushing bills to the House floor.

"The Democrats promised open, honest and ethical government, and then shut down debate on major policy initiatives that the American people care about - national security, energy policy, education policy, health care, and increasing wages," said Patrick McHenry, a House Republican.

In her remarks Friday, Pelosi focused on domestic issues, saying among other things that Americans need to confront the reality of global warming, and work for energy independence and technological innovation, while strengthening national security.

Senator Reid repeated earlier assertions that sending over 21-thousand additional troops to Iraq will not end the conflict there without aggressive steps on political reconciliation by the Iraqi government.

Reiterating Democrat's call for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops to begin within four to six months, he also criticized the president's position against talking with Iran and Syria about the situation in Iraq. "The Iranians and Syrians have played a de-stabilizing role in Iraq, but that doesn't mean we can't communicate with them as part of a regional framework," he said.

But it was a remark earlier Friday by Pelosi regarding the president's Iraq strategy that brought a strong response from the White House.

In an interview with ABC-Television, Pelosi said, in her words, "the president knows that because the troops are in harm's way that we won't cut off the resources," adding "that's why he's moving so quickly to put them in harm's way."

That brought this response from White House spokeswoman Dana Perino:

"It is poisonous. And it is certainly not in keeping with the bipartisan spirit and civility that the Democrats pledged, and that we look forward to," he said.

Comments by Reid and Pelosi came as majority Democrats continue to introduce legislation aimed at the troop surge for Iraq.

A group of conservative House Democrats announced a resolution aimed at addressing the controversy over waste of money by contractors in Iraq, explained here by Congressman Mike Ross:

"The past four years this administration has written off the cost of this war in a fiscally irresponsible manner. It is past time for Congress to provide oversight, and become good stewards of our hard-working taxpayer's money, and hold this administration accountable for the expenditures in Iraq," he said.

Among other things, the lawmakers propose creating a special commission to investigate how contracts were awarded to companies such as Halliburton, which was headed at one time by now Vice President Dick Cheney.

House committees, including the panel on Oversight and Government Reform chaired by Congressman Henry Waxman, will be stepping up the pace of hearings in coming weeks on the issue of contracting in Iraq.

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