Bush rallies Congress to fight terror, but Democrats will oppose White House on fixing economy


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


WASHINGTON (AP) _ Summoned by President Bush to fight the ``grave and growing danger'' of terrorism, a united Congress is eager to enlist. But Democrats have their own ideas when it comes to election-year fixes for the recession-ridden economy.

Since Sept. 11, ``there has been no daylight between us in this war on terrorism,'' House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt said Tuesday night in his party's response to Bush's State of the Union address.

But when it comes to joblessness, the Missouri Democrat said, ``Our values call for helping the unemployed, not just large corporations and the most fortunate.''

And when it comes to health care, he added, ``our values call for helping patients and older Americans, not just big HMOs and pharmaceutical companies.''

Both sides set out to dramatize their own priorities on the morning after the president's speech before a joint session of Congress and a nationwide television audience counted in the millions.

Bush was embarking on a two-day tour to three southern states to promote his proposals, including economic stimulus legislation.

For their part, Democrats arranged a meeting in the Capitol with former Enron Corp. employees _ men and women who suffered catastrophic losses in their retirement accounts when the company collapsed.

Bush got a welcome fit for a hero Tuesday night as he entered a packed House chamber to deliver his speech. Amid the applause, lawmakers gravitated to the center aisle to shake his hand as he made his way to the podium.

``Our nation is at war, our economy is in recession, and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers,'' he said in a bluntly worded beginning. Then, making a fist and tapping lightly on the podium for emphasis, he quickly added _ ``Yet the state of our union has never been stronger.''

Moments later, to more applause, he added, ``we will prevail in the war, and we will defeat this recession.''

The president used his speech to recount accomplishments since terrorists struck on Sept. 11 and to sketch the challenge ahead in combatting terrorism abroad and the recession at home.

``Our war on terror is well begun, but it is only begun,'' he said. ``We cannot stop short.''

He said all nations should work to ``eliminate the terrorist parasites who threaten their countries, and our own.'' And yet, he added, ``some governments will be timid in the face of terror. And make no mistake: If they do not act, America will.''

He listed three nations in particular, North Korea, Iran and Iraq, as members of an ``axis of evil. ... By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger,'' he said.

Public opinion surveys show support for Bush in the 80 percent range, and his stewardship of the economy gets high marks, as well.

And few Democrats seemed eager to speak dismissively of the president. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., was one, declaring, ``basically, he's played the war for whatever it's worth.''

Others challenged him directly on the economy. ``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 not surprisingly, Gephardt's tempered remarks set the tone for most members of his party.

``We look forward to continuing to work with the president to win the war against terrorism, at home and aboard,'' said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the most powerful Democrat in Congress.

The man who sets the Senate agenda, Daschle pledged the ``same cooperative, bipartisan spirit to addressing our domestic needs,'' at the same time he outlined elements of a Democratic agenda.

``We need to move forward with help for unemployed workers, affordable prescription drugs for our seniors, greater protections against employer mismanagement of employee pensions,'' and more, he said.

While Bush had made a reference to the need for more accountable behavior by corporate leaders, Gephardt mentioned Enron by name and called for Bush to sign legislation curtailing the role of money in political campaigns.

Republicans chorused approval for Bush's speech. ``I look forward to working with him to carry out his common sense agenda,'' said Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., the president's close ally in Congress.

Bush said he was asking Congress for the largest increase in defense spending in two decades, and requesting that spending be nearly doubled on key areas of homeland security. These include bioterrorism, emergency response, airport and border security and improved intelligence.

Partisan differences surfaced gently when Bush discussed the economy.

Republicans gave him a loud ovation immediately after the president said deficits would be small and short-lived if Congress ``acts in a fiscally responsible way.'' Democrats were slower to applaud.

Republicans were on their feet cheering quickly when the president said last year's tax cuts should be made permanent _ while most Democrats sat in silence.

Republicans chanted ``work, work, work'' when Bush called for Senate passage of energy and trade legislation, both bills the president said were key to economic recovery.

Democrats broke out into the same chant moments later, when he called for a prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients.