President Criticizes Congressional Democrats

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007

PHILADELPHIA, July 26 -- President Bush stepped up his criticism of the Democratic-controlled Congress on Thursday, accusing members of being fiscally irresponsible and "dragging their feet" on spending bills needed to keep the government running beyond Sept. 30.

Speaking before conservative state legislators meeting at a convention here, Bush called on Congress to approve a Pentagon spending bill before its August recess and to pass the 11 other appropriations bills in short order.

"They need to exercise their responsibility and get this defense bill passed," Bush said, adding that having troops in Iraq and Afghanistan adds urgency to the matter. "There's time to do it. I'll hang around if they want me to get the bill passed."

With his once-ambitious domestic agenda in tatters, his administration facing multiple congressional investigations and his approval ratings at near-historic lows, the president has targeted the one institution that polls show is less popular with the public than he is: Congress.

Bush and congressional leaders talked of a renewed commitment to bipartisanship after the midterm elections that saw Democrats take control of the House and Senate. But it did not take long for the bipartisan comity to give way to rancor.

In recent weeks, members of Bush's administration have been increasingly vocal in criticizing Congress for enacting little legislation while aggressively pursuing investigations of the administration, a critique White House strategists hope will rally supporters and counter the impact of the probes.

With the window for bipartisan legislative achievement all but closed on issues including immigration, some GOP strategists say Bush can perhaps buck up conservatives by directly challenging congressional Democrats.

"The White House can say, 'We tried it, and it just didn't work,' " said Vin Weber, a Republican lobbyist and strategist close to the White House. "They can look at the president's low standing in the polls and the fact that Congress's is even lower, and conclude: What is to be lost by a focused attack on Congress?"

This week, White House spokesman Tony Snow criticized Congress's priorities after the House Judiciary Committee approved contempt citations for former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten in connection with its investigation of the U.S. attorney firings.

"What you have right now is partisanship on Capitol Hill that quite often boils down to insults, insinuations, inquisitions and investigations, rather than pursuing the normal business of trying to pass major pieces of legislation, such as appropriations bills," Snow said.

In remarks to the American Legislative Exchange Council, Bush accused Congress of wanting to "return to the tax-and-spend policies of the past." He drew applause as he repeated his vow to veto any spending bills that would exceed the spending limits in his budget plan.

"What I'm telling you is, is that there's a philosophical debate in Washington -- and the bunch now running Congress want to return to the tax-and-spend policies of the past that did not work then and will not work in the future," Bush said. "And that's why I plan on using my veto to keep your taxes low."

Bush went on to accuse Democrats of supporting "the largest tax increase in American history" if they allow tax cuts passed during his first term to expire over the next several years. He laid out several examples that he said show that the tax cuts mean several thousands of dollars a year to middle-class families.

White House communications director Kevin Sullivan said Bush did not set out to criticize Democrats as much as prod them. "The president wanted to challenge them to get the most important of the 12 spending bills done," he said, referring to the Pentagon appropriation.

Congress has not passed any of the 12 spending bills to fund the government in the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Bush said Congress should send the measures to him one at a time to avoid what he called a massive omnibus bill that "no one can read" and "in which anyone can hide wasteful spending."

Bush has repeatedly threatened to veto bills from the Democratic Congress and has shown impatience with its pace, something he did not do when Republicans were in charge, though they were also often slow with spending legislation. He did not veto any spending bills during the six years of his presidency that Republicans controlled Congress, a period when federal domestic spending increased sharply.

Democratic congressional leaders shrugged off Bush's words, saying there is no rush to enact spending bills not needed for two months.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) characterized Bush's speech as "simply the latest example of the president shamelessly hiding behind our brave troops in an effort to distract attention from his failed national security record."

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