The top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Dick Gephardt, delivered his party's response to President Bush's State of the Union address. Congressman Gephardt backed Mr. Bush's war on terrorism but indicated that opposition support for the President's domestic agenda would not necessarily follow.
Mr. Gephardt opened his remarks by saying Democrats stand firmly behind Mr. Bush in his fight against terrorism. "There were two parties tonight in the House Chamber, but one resolve. Like generations that came before us, we will pay any price and bear any burden to make sure this proud nation wins the first war of the 21st century," Congressman Gephardt said.
But Mr. Gephardt, a likely contender for his party's nomination for President in the 2004 election, also made clear that bipartisan support for the war on terrorism would not necessarily translate into bipartisan cooperation on Mr. Bush's economic plan. "I refuse to accept that while we stand shoulder to shoulder on the war, we should stand toe to toe on the economy," Mr. Gephardt said.
The House Democratic leader's comments set the stage for partisan battles over economic issues ahead of legislative elections in November. Those elections could shift control of both houses of Congress. Democrats control the Senate by one seat. Republicans have a six-seat majority in the House.
Mr. Gephardt renewed his call on the White House to host a bipartisan summit on economic growth. The administration rejected the call last week, saying Mr. Gephardt was more interested in scoring political points than helping the economy.
Mr. Gephardt also appealed for campaign finance reform in the wake of the bankruptcy of giant energy trader, Enron. Mr. Gephardt called on President Bush to back the effort. "If the nation's largest bankruptcy coupled with a clear example of paid political influence isn't a prime case for reform, I don't know what is. The forces aligned against this are powerful. So if you have never called or written your member of Congress, now is the time. I hope the president will stand with us to clean up the political system and get big money out of politics," Mr. Gephardt said.
Democrats hope to make political hay of the Bush administration's close ties to Enron in an effort to portray Mr. Bush and fellow Republicans as more sympathetic to big business than to average Americans.
Enron's collapse last month cost many employees and investors their life savings.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers said they were pleased with the President's State of the Union Speech. In a written statement, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott applauded Mr. Bush's call for more spending on U.S. defense and homeland security as well as additional efforts to spur economic growth.