Congressional Democrats, many
charmed by President George W. Bush's engaging personality in
recent weeks, came out swinging on Wednesday against what they
denounced as his heartless proposals.
On the eve of Bush's presentation to Congress of his
recommendation to cut taxes by $1.6 trillion over 10 years,
Democrats charged that the package would cost too much, go
largely to the rich and, despite promises to the contrary,
leave a number of children behind.
``There is going to be one hell of a fight over this and
there should be,'' vowed House of Representatives Democratic
Whip David Bonior of Michigan.
``George W. Bush is not going to be able to charm himself in
to a big tax cut,'' said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, an Ohio
Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
``I think the White House and Republicans up here have
underestimated the resolve by Democrats to take them on,'' said
Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat.
The White House and congressional Republicans have been
openly giddy over Bush's ability to reach out to Democrats,
often on an one on one, since he took office on Jan. 20.
House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas has credited Bush
with helping set a new bipartisan tone in the Republican-led
``This is what we have long needed,'' DeLay said last Friday
after Bush addressed a Republican retreat in Williamsburg,
Virginia, where he preached cooperation, not confrontation.
Yet it is an open question how much cooperation there will
be when it comes to cutting taxes, improving education and
expanding Social Security and Medicare -- all Bush priorities.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who joined
Bush for a movie at the White House last week, said he expects
to work with the new president on education.
But Kennedy called a news conference on Wednesday to
announce the introduction of a bill to increase the federal
minimum wage, and to denounce Bush's stand on the issue.
``President Bush supports raising the minimum wage, but only
if the states have the option of rejecting the increase,'' said
Kennedy, the leading liberal voice on Capitol Hill.
``Allowing states to opt out violates the nation's
60-year-old commitment to the principle that working men and
women are entitled to a fair minimum wage.''
On Tuesday, Kennedy challenged Bush on a campaign promise
to bring Republicans and Democrats together on a patients bill
of rights. He did so by joining Sen. John McCain of Arizona,
who had challenged Bush for the Republican presidential
nomination, in introducing a bill that would allow Americans to
sue their health plans for coverage.
Bush promptly raised objections to the measure, opposed by
industry groups, and on Wednesday countered with the outline of
a proposal of his own. It contained no specifics or price tag.
``George W. Bush, like many people born with a silver spoon
in his mouth, can be very charming,'' said Rep. Maurice Hinchey,
a New York Democrat.
``He can smile and he can tell a joke, but let's not confuse
substance with charm,'' Hinchey said. ``And he's not half as
smart as (former President) Bill Clinton.''
Hinchey was among a dozen members of the congressional
Progressive Caucus who held a news conference on Wednesday to
denounce the Bush tax cut.
They charged that the proposed tax relief would go mainly
to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and not leave
enough for a number of other federal efforts, particularly ones
to improve education.
``He says he doesn't want to leave any child behind, but his
tax cut would force us to leave a number of children behind,''
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota sent
Bush a letter on Wednesday, asking him to pledge not to dip
into the Medicare surplus to fund tax cuts or spending plans.
In the letter, co-signed by Sen. Kent Conrad, a North
Dakota Democrat, Daschle asked Bush to ``reconsider your
position ... and take a pledge to safeguard both the Social
Security and Medicare surpluses with 'lockbox' protections.''
Speaking to reporters, Daschle and Conrad also argued that
the real cost of Bush's proposed tax cut would be $2.6
trillion, and said the nation cannot afford it.
``I don't think we can persuade him'' to back off the
proposal, Daschle said. ``But our hope is that we can persuade
Republican colleagues and the American people about the
ill-advised approach that this represents.''
Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited