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.