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Presidential Campaign 2004 Plays Out  on Capitol Hill - 2004-03-07

With Senator John Kerry having effectively secured the Democratic Party nomination for president, Democrats in Congress say they will coordinate closely with him in the months leading to the November election. The contest between Mr. Kerry and President Bush has already spilled over into the House of Representatives, with Republicans and Democrats trading charges on key campaign issues.

This week, in coordination with the start of a series of television ads for President Bush, Republicans in the House of Representatives began to fire their own salvos at Senator Kerry.

With Democrats still assailing President Bush on a broad range of economic issues, the House Republican leadership took aim at Mr. Kerry's budget proposals, expressed in campaign speeches.

Accusing Mr. Kerry of "backward thinking," Republicans said his policies would lead to increased taxes and even more government spending than has occurred under Mr. Bush.

The question of government spending is a sensitive one, with some conservative members of the president's own party upset with the rate of spending and expansion of government under Mr. Bush.

Republicans rebutted in considerable detail some Kerry statements. Recently, they criticized his claim that the Bush administration is to blame for a downturn in employment in the manufacturing sector, saying the decline actually began under President Clinton.

On the question of jobs, Republicans have tried to return to the offensive against Democratic charges Republican policies have led to the biggest employment losses in decades.

In one hearing, Republican Congressman Bill Thomas responded to Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee who criticized the administration record on jobs. "All of us believe that every American who wants a job should have a job. and we are going to do everything within our power to make sure that that situation occurs," he said. "Although it has never occurred in human history, we are going to strive to do it under the current Bush administration, and certainly in the second Bush administration."

Democrats, meanwhile have fired back, releasing a number of reports detailing what they say are Bush failures on the economy and job creation, education, the environment, and homeland security.

In a report timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security, Democrats issued an extensive report detailing what they say are administration failures to provide enough resources to help prevent another major terrorist attack. "There has still been no assessment of what our first responders need to protect our communities," said Democratic Congressman Jim Turner, "and no commitment to make sure that our first responders have the tools they must have to do the job."

House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, said she expects to be working closely with Mr. Kerry in coming months to coordinate as Democrats drive to regain the White House and win back control of Congress. "I am indeed very happy that we now have a nominee of the Democratic Party," she said. "Democrats are very excited to work with our nominee to grow the economy, to create jobs, to expand access to quality health care, to have the best possible education for our children, to protect our environment, and to keep America safe and secure."

Mrs. Pelosi said the aim is to have what she calls "fusion" in the Democratic Party message as the election draws closer. She added, however, that there has been no discussion as yet with Senator Kerry on how he can help individual Democratic incumbents in the House, or candidates challenging Republicans, in the course of his campaign.