The opposition Democratic Party used its weekly radio address Saturday to criticize the Bush administration for failing to properly armor vehicles used by U.S. troops in Iraq. The dispute has led to calls for the removal of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. President Bush used his radio address to call for changes in the federal retirement plan.
Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin kept up the pressure on Secretary Rumsfeld, criticizing the shortage of armored vehicles in Iraq.
"The Pentagon says the lack of protective equipment is a matter of logistics. No it is not. It is a matter of leadership," he says.
Senator Durbin says it is part of a litany of serious miscalculations from the earliest stages of the Iraq invasion. He says Secretary Rumsfeld ignored warnings the invasion force needed more troops and might not be welcomed as liberators.
Senator Durbin said those responsible for planning the war were not prepared for the reality on the ground, and many U.S. soldiers, he said, have paid the price.
"Congress has given this administration every penny that it has requested for Iraq and Afghanistan, yet today, 21 months after the invasion of Iraq, we still have 3500 humvees without protective armor, making these vehicles and our soldiers in them, prime targets for roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades," Senator Durbin says.
U.S. officials say more than three-fourths of the Humvees in Iraq carry protective armor, but a far smaller proportion of transport vehicles used to ferry supplies are similarly reinforced.
The Defense Department says one of every five American lives lost in Iraq have been lost in humvees. The safety of those vehicles gained greater attention during a question and answer session Mr. Rumsfeld had earlier this month with U.S. troops in Kuwait.
Since then, several senior Republican Senators have joined Democrats in questioning Secretary Rumsfeld's leadership.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan says President Bush has every confidence in his defense secretary, who Mr. McClellan says is doing a great job and is the right person for the challenges the United States faces going forward in the fight against terrorism.
In his weekly radio address, President Bush avoided the controversy over Secretary Rumsfeld and focused instead on a just-concluded White House economic conference, backing many of his plans for his second term.
The president wants to change the federal retirement system to allow younger workers to invest some of their retirement savings in financial markets. That is opposed by Democrats, who say the changes would cut benefits.
When Congress reconvenes next year, President Bush said, he also wants legislators to restrict what he calls junk lawsuits.
"Our litigious society deters job creation, and consumes billions of dollars that could be better spent on investment and expansion," Mr. Bush says. "Frivolous lawsuits put American workers at a competitive disadvantage in the global economy, and have a devastating impact on the medical community."
The president's economic plan also includes making his record tax cuts permanent and allowing small businesses to join together to get volume discounts on health insurance.