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Democrats Respond to State of the Union Address - 2003-01-29

Opposition Democrats have responded to President Bush's State of the Union address.

The traditional response to the President's address by the opposition party was delivered by Gary Locke, the two-term governor of the state of Washington. As expected, the Democratic statement focused on the president's economic plan, unveiled in early January.

It proposes $674 billion in spending for an economic revival package based on tax cuts, including elimination of taxes on stock dividends.

Democrats have labeled it a "handout" for the rich, saying it would give the largest tax cuts to wealthy Americans.

In his speech, the president rejected the Democratic criticisms, saying his proposal would help small businesses and create jobs.

"This tax relief is for everyone who pays income taxes and it will help our economy, immediately," Mr. Bush said. "Ninety-two million Americans will keep this year, an average of almost $1,100 more of their own money."

In the official Democratic response, Governor Locke disagreed.

"We think it's upside-down economics. It does too little to stimulate the economy now, and does too much to weaken our economic future," he said. "It will create huge permanent deficits that will raise interest rates, stifle growth, hinder home ownership and cut off the avenues of opportunity that have let so many work themselves up from poverty."

Before the president's speech, lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican side said Mr. Bush would have to make clear his reasons for possible military action in Iraq.

Mr. Bush reiterated the United States reserves the right to act on its own, with allies, to disarm Iraq.

"Yet, the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others," he said. "Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people."

Delivering the Democratic response, Governor Locke urged the president to continue working with allies and to allow the U.N. inspection process to work.

"We must convince the world that Saddam Hussein is not America's problem alone. He is the world's problem," he said. "And, we urge President Bush to stay this course, for we are far stronger when we stand with other nations than when we stand alone."

The president's strong comments on Iraq alarmed Democratic lawmakers, such as Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes, who said Mr. Bush sounded, "very close to war."

President Bush's domestic proposals drew criticism from, among others, Senator Edward Kennedy, who says Mr. Bush paid little attention to education, while presenting an unacceptable proposal on medical insurance.

On the Republican side, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist praised the president's proposals on health care and his request to Congress to approve $15 billion, over the next ten years, to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.