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Democrats Criticize Agenda Presented at State of Union

By Carl Hulse
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

Democrats responded with skepticism Tuesday to President Bush’s policy agenda, saying he and his fellow Republicans had compiled a record of favoring corporate interests and the affluent when it came to the economy, health care and energy.

In the party’s formal response to the president’s State of the Union address, Timothy M. Kaine, the newly elected governor of Virginia, accused the administration of “poor choices and bad management” that have had dire consequences for ordinary Americans.

“Families in the Gulf Coast see that as they wait to rebuild their lives,” said Kaine, who was featured as evidence that Democrats could win elections in conservative states. “Americans who lose their jobs see that as they look to rebuild their careers. And our soldiers in Iraq see that as they try to rebuild a nation.”

In their own comments before the address, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the top Democrats in Congress, said the White House and congressional Republicans had granted special interests too great a role in shaping legislation, including the new Medicare prescription drug plan.

“Because the pharmaceutical industry was at the table when this bill was written,” Pelosi said, “seniors are paying the price at the corner pharmacy.”

She and Reid also said they had seen no sign in Bush’s five years in office that he and Republican congressional leaders were serious about easing the nation’s reliance on foreign energy sources. They said energy legislation adopted by Congress last year was heavily influenced by the oil industry, which is earning record profits.

“We have never had a more oil-oriented administration,” Reid said, adding that the administration had given only lip service to alternative energy proposals.

Democrats said that they had proposed a significant mandatory reduction in imports during the energy policy debate only to see the plan rejected by Republicans.

Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, a senior Democrat on the energy panel, said, “The president needs to embrace real reforms, not recycle rhetoric on the importance of reducing our dependency on foreign oil.”

Given Bush’s political struggles and a corruption scandal in Congress, Democrats see an opportunity this year to make gains in the House and the Senate, and perhaps to recapture control of one chamber in the November elections.

They hope to make their assertion that Republicans are too closely aligned with special interests a main political theme, trying to demonstrate how ties between lawmakers and lobbyists can result in legislation counter to the public interest.

A new television advertisement created specifically for the State of the Union address by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sought to tie Bush’s past State of the Union proposals on Social Security, health care and energy to industry influence. It asked, “What special interest will the Republican Congress rubber-stamp this time?”

The House campaign organization also put together a Web site tied to the theme of the advertisement, which was shown on the Fox News Channel before the speech.