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Leaders of Congress call for unity on domestic issues

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On the morning of President Bush's first State of the Union address, congressional leaders of both parties emerged from meeting with Bush on Tuesday citing a need to cooperate to resolve ongoing impasses on domestic issues.

Bush laid out the issues that he expects to address in his address tonight with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri.

The congressional leaders also discussed their legislative agendas, which include a lot of unfinished business -- such as economic stimulus, energy policy, a farm bill and a trade bill -- left over from last year.

"I think it's fair to say that there is a great deal of mutuality in our agendas," said Daschle, who has been at odds with the White House in recent weeks, particularly on economic matters.

Daschle said both Democrats and Republicans support Bush's handling of the war on terrorism and show "tremendous interest" in resolving matters on the domestic agenda, including the budget for fiscal 2003. Bush is slated to present his budget proposal to Congress next week.

"There is a great deal of common ground here as we consider our priorities. I'm hopeful that we can work together to accomplish as much as possible in the short time that we have," said Daschle, referring to the time between now and Congress' scheduled August recess.

Gephardt, the other top Democrat on Capitol Hill, echoed those comments. "I feel strongly that we need to try to use the same process of collaboration and communication that we have on terrorism to fight the recession and get the economy going for long-term growth."

Bipartisanship, however, could be a difficult proposition because this is a midterm election year, and one in which control of both houses of Congress could shift from one party to another.

"It's going to be an election year," House Speaker Hastert said. "That means, sometimes, that this business gets right contentious and we have committed ourselves to try to meet as often as possible to try to work out whatever difficulties that we can."

Gephardt called for meetings on domestic issues. "I think we've got to try our best to come together, to collaborate, try to move this budget in the right direction and get the country out of recession and start building stable, good jobs for American people."

Lott said Bush "reacted well" to Gephardt's call for greater communication between both sides on the domestic agenda. "Obviously, that's the way we should do things. It'll be particularly hard with it being an election year, but the American people expect that of us and we have an opportunity to come together."




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