OKLAHOMA CITY, OCT. 29 -- With his own poll ratings continuing to slide, President Bush fired back at the Democrats in Congress today, accusing them of partisan delays on the budget that "choked the economy" and put the country on the brink of recession.
Taking note of rising unemployment and inflation figures, Bush sought to shift the blame for the declining economy, telling a Republican campaign audience at the Cowboy Hall of Fame, "This Congress was content to stall an agreement and stall the economy. We are not going to let them get away with it."
Bush's speech here today was a prelude to a final week of campaigning as he and other Republicans try to recover from the political damage they appeared to suffer during the long budget fight. He plans another speech to a GOP rally in Washington Tuesday and will hit the road for a final campaign swing later this week.
But Bush's hectic campaigning in the final week also will be aimed at boosting his own standing, now that his once-stratospheric approval ratings have dipped sharply.
Bush tried out his new themes here today while campaigning for Bill Price, the Republican candidate for governor. The president charged that Congress was controlled by perpetual legislators interested more in pork-barrel perks and their own reelections than the good of the country.
Noting that Oklahoma voters approved term limits for state legislators last month, he urged the American people to begin limiting congressional terms next week by voting against the Democrats.
"America doesn't need a liberal House of Lords," he said. "America needs a Republican Congress."
Bush, who began the day at a private, $25,000-a-couple fund-raising event in San Francisco, also tried to cast his party as protectors of the middle class and to refute Democratic charges that Republicans are defenders of the wealthy. "Those liberals that control Congress" are spewing out class warfare "garbage that they always resurrect at election time," he said.
He said it was the Republicans who had held the line against higher income taxes for working men and women by opposing a Democratic proposal to delay tax indexing for a year. He added that he would oppose any renewed Democratic efforts to raise the top tax rate on the wealthiest taxpayers, and said he still would like to win enactment of a capital gains tax cut.
Still swallowing hard on the budget agreement approved by Congress over the weekend, Bush said "we had to pay a ransom" of higher taxes to get the spending cuts he favored. He said the agreement was important to protect the weakened economy, but added that Democrats dallied while the economy worsened.
"This agreement could have come together in May, in June or in August," he said. "But the Democrats choked the throttle, pulled the throttle back of a slowing economy, while they hunted for every last morsel of partisan advantage. All in the name of politics and of higher taxes."