From the Democrats, solid backing for Bush on war but questions on domestic issues

Wednesday, January 30th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Democrats pledged staunch backing for President Bush to prosecute the war on terrorism, but on the domestic front they differ from Republicans on issues ranging from economic recovery to the collapse of Enron Corp.

In the party's televised response to the president's State of the Union address, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt quoted President John F. Kennedy in saying the nation would ``pay any price and bear any burden'' to win the war.

``Now is not the time for finger-pointing or politics as usual,'' Gephardt, D-Mo., said Tuesday night from his Capitol office off the House floor. ``The men and women who are defending our freedom are not fighting for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.''

Like Gephardt, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the same ``cooperative, bipartisan spirit'' should be brought to more divisive issues such as how to stimulate an economy rocked by recession. That has proved much more difficult, and some Democrats were skeptical the differences could be bridged.

``We need a recovery package that is a real stimulus, not just another round of irresponsible tax breaks for special interests and the wealthy,'' said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

But Gephardt insisted that Democrats need not stand ``toe to toe'' against Republicans to repair the economy. He repeated his proposal for a bipartisan White House summit on economic growth.

``I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and go to work,'' he said.

The implosion of Enron Corp., the energy trader that declared bankruptcy late last year, should spur changes in pension plans and 401(k)s that would give people more control over investments and greater protection against corporate mismanagement, Gephardt said.

Enron's generous political donations and attempts to influence energy policy should also spark congressional passage of long-stalled legislation aimed at reducing the influence of big money in politics, he said.

``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,'' Gephardt said. He urged people to write Congress in favor of campaign finance reform and urged Bush to support the bill.

On other issues, Gephardt called for an increase in the minimum wage, a tax deduction for up to $10,000 in college or worker training expenses and passage of a Medicare prescription drug benefit for the elderly. He pledged Democratic cooperation on beefing up the U.S. military and increasing spending for homeland security, both Bush priorities.

Before the speech, Daschle said last year's passage of an important education bill should serve as a model for bipartisan cooperation on a wide range of issues _ even in an election year when control of the House and Senate is at stake.

``There have been many occasions when the Congress has come together to deal with critical issues, controversial issues in an election year. This year ought to be no different,'' Daschle said.