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Democrats Criticize Bush Iraq, Domestic Policies - 2004-01-21

President Bush's State of the Union Address is being praised by Republicans in Congress, while Democrats have renewed criticism of the president's policies in Iraq and on domestic issues.

The atmosphere during this year's address was markedly different from that in January 2003, when President Bush set the stage for U.S. and coalition military action to oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq. However, Mr. Bush got just as warm a reception from Republicans, who responded enthusiastically to his statements on Iraq, the war on terror and domestic priorities.

Republicans say he demonstrated concern and compassion, but took a strong stand on his core positions on permanent tax reduction, education, health care and his proposal for immigration reform. Democrats say he failed to give adequate attention to economic weaknesses or to offer additional ideas on how he intends to deal job loss in the economy, and unemployment, as well as gaps in homeland security.

The official opposition response was delivered by the House and Senate Democratic leaders, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Senator Tom Daschle.

Mrs. Pelosi says Bush policies in Iraq left the United States isolated from its allies and placed virtually all the burdens on American taxpayers and U.S. troops. "The president led us into the Iraq War on the basis of unproven assertions, without evidence," she said. "He embraced a radical doctrine of pre-emptive war unprecedented in our history and he failed to build a true international coalition."

Mr. Daschle, for his part, faulted the president for insisting on permanent tax cuts, which he said have put made life difficult for middle class working Americans while favoring the rich. "The true test of America's economic recovery is not measured in quarterly profit reports, it's measured in jobs," he said. "The massive tax cuts that were supposed to spark an economic expansion have instead led to an economic exodus."

House Republican leader Tom DeLay says Mr. Bush showed he continues to be a "bold leader." This was echoed by California's David Dreier. "We have seen the beginning of economic recovery in this country," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do to make sure that it's sustained, but I could not be happier with the way the president stepped up to the plate and really did, in fact, demonstrate that he is a strong, dynamic, bold and decisive leader."

Another view came from Republican Congressman Tom Davis. "Democrats are going to have a hard time at this point coming up and talking down the fact that the economy has turned around, that we [Republicans] inherited a recession," he said. "That we inherited corporate scandals, that [the terrorist attacks of] September 11 occurred, things that ordinarily could have put a big hole [in the president's credibility], and [that] we're on the way back up."

One of the harshest Democratic critics of the president, Senator Edward Kennedy, called Mr. Bush's domestic proposals "too little, too late". "This is not quite the State of the Union that most American families are faced with. This economy has been good for Wall Street but not for Main Street, [and] you still have millions of Americans who are out of work," he said. "The proposals dealing with health care coverage and getting a handle on health care costs. On the coverage, it's like throwing a ten-foot rope to someone who is drowning at 13 feet."

Mr. Bush's third State of the Union Address briefly diverted attention from early Democratic party political contests which will eventually produce a nominee to challenge him for the White House next November.