Dems try something new: A strategy

Congressional Democrats on Thursday tried a preemptive strike
against President Bush’s upcoming State of the Union speech, even as
the president began outlining his own strategy.

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.

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

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.

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

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.