Cheney Delivers Sharp-Edged Speech About Democrats

By Peter Baker and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 13, 2007; 4:58 PM

CHICAGO, April 13 -- Vice President Cheney accused congressional Democrats today of reviving the "far-left platform" of George McGovern from the 1970s, an agenda that he said would raise taxes, declare surrender in an overseas war and leave the United States exposed to new dangers.

In a sharp-edged speech to a conservative audience, Cheney escalated the Bush administration attack on Congress for passing war spending legislation that would mandate withdrawing at least some U.S. troops from Iraq. He raised the specter of the end of the Vietnam era, when McGovern, then a Democratic senator from South Dakota, ran for president on a peace platform and lost the 1972 election in a landslide to President Richard M. Nixon.

"That was the last time the national Democratic Party took a hard left turn," he told a conference hosted here by the Heritage Foundation. "But in 2007, it looks like history is repeating itself. Today, on some of the most critical issues facing the country, the new Democratic majority resembles nothing so much as that old party of the early 1970s."

Cheney called the Democrats' war-spending legislation "irresponsible" and said it suggests they do not understand the threat facing the United States.

He also minimized the party's victory in last year's midterm elections, which gave the Democrats control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1995. "It was, in retrospect, a narrow victory," Cheney said, asserting that a shift of only 3,600 votes would have kept the Senate in Republican hands and a shift of fewer than 100,000 votes would have maintained GOP control of the House.

Pressing his attack, the vice president charged that congressional Democrats last month added billions of dollars to an emergency war spending bill "to cover items on their wish list -- from fighting crickets to spinach subsidies." He added, "Even though it's still early in the session, when it comes to the appetite for tax dollars, the new Congress has already earned a place in the big-spending hall of fame."

Democrats accuse Republicans of hypocrisy on this issue, noting that pork-barrel spending has exploded since President Bush took office and that little was heard about it from the White House while Republicans held majorities in the House and Senate.

Cheney said the "far left wing" of the Democratic Party had brought it to defeat in the early 1970s, beginning a long period of public distrust on national security matters.

"Today, as the United States faces a new kind of enemy and a new kind of war, the far left is again taking hold of the Democratic Party's agenda," he said.

He blasted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus last week, saying the visit sent "mixed signals about the policies and the intentions of the United States" and undermined "America's careful, and successful, multilateral effort to isolate the Syrian regime."

Cheney appeared to reserve his toughest criticism for what he called "the Democrats' attempt to micromanage" the war in Iraq by imposing a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces as part of the emergency war funding bill.

"It sends a message to our enemies that the calendar is their friend, that all they have to do is wait us out -- wait for the date certain, and then claim victory the day after," he said.

"Critics enjoy pointing out mistakes through the perceptive power of hindsight," Cheney said. "But the biggest mistake of all can be seen in advance: A sudden withdrawal of our coalition would dissipate much of the effort that's gone into fighting the global war on terror, and result in chaos and mounting danger. And for the sake of our own security, we will not stand by and let it happen."

Pelosi, for her part, released a statement today on Democratic accomplishments since the party took control of Congress, saying that from the first hours "we have worked to provide a new direction for the American people."

"In the first 100 days, Democrats provided our nation with a long overdue new direction on the war in Iraq that supports both our troops and our veterans," she said. "We restored fiscal responsibility with a budget that reflects our American values, extends health care coverage to uninsured children, provides aid to the survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and restores critical funding for education, law enforcement and medical research."

She also extolled House passage of legislation to advance embryonic stem cell research and promote energy independence, among other goals. In addition, she said, "We restored openness and accountability to our government with tough ethical reforms."

Branigin reported from Washington.

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