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Democrats Rip Into 'Charming' Bush
Published on Thursday, February 8, 2001 by Reuters
Democrats Rip Into 'Charming' Bush
by Thomas Ferraro
 
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 Congress.

``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,'' said Wellstone.

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

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