By LUCIA GRAVES
January 27, 2006
In what amounted to a practice run for Tuesday, the party leaders sketched out their competing agendas that they hope will sustain them during the 2006 election season.
Health care, education and energy will be the Democratic pillars, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin told a packed National Press Club audience. Beyond the specific policies, the Democrats plan to hammer away at what they term the current "culture of corruption" in the GOP-controlled Congress.
"Republicans have been doing the bidding of special-interest lobbyists who have purchased access to the legislative process," Pelosi said.
While Bush will place heavy emphasis on national security, where Republicans think he has a natural advantage, the president is also promising new proposals on the domestic front. These will new health insurance initiatives, as well as a broader appeal to what Bush called the American character.
Bush will also be trying to turn the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe in his favor.
"I will talk about the values that are important for our country," Bush said at a news conference Thursday morning. "I'm going to remind people we show the character and compassion of America by taking focused action to confront disease and to help . . . areas that have been devastated by natural disasters."
In recent days, White House officials have been carefully doling out advance tidbits about what Bush will deliver in his Tuesday night address at the Capitol. For example, one of Bush's top aides, Roy Ramthun, added Thursday that the president will be discussing electronic medical records as a solution to some of the problems facing displaced Katrina victims.
"I look forward to the speech, I really do," Bush said. "As you can imagine, it's an interesting experience to walk out there and not only talk to members of Congress, but as importantly, talk to the American people."
Durbin, the Senate minority whip, noted that there are 46 million Americans with no health insurance, 5 million more than when Bush first came into office. Like Pelosi, he invoked hints of corruption in his assessment of the president's performance.
"We hope the president will listen less to the people who have written big checks to political campaigns in Washington and more to the people who are working hard just to write checks every week to pay their bills," Durbin said.
The Democrats said they would be pushing a proposal to help Americans save more, which they dub AmeriSave. First unveiled last summer, after which it fizzled out for a while, the AmeriSave plan would provide additional matching funds for middle-class retirement accounts.
Pelosi spoke of the "knowledge-based economy" as the way for America to retain its preeminent status, and emphasized as well a push for alternative energy supplies that are sustainable and environmentally friendly.
"Our economic future and national security both demand that we achieve energy independence, and we intend to do so in 10 years," Pelosi said.
Bush, too, has stressed the need for boosting energy supplies, although his support for nuclear power plants and drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is anathema to many Democrats.
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