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Democrats fault Bush on national security, economy

Comments precede State of the Union address

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle:
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle: "The state of our union today is anxious."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a rhetorical pre-emptive strike, Democratic leaders Monday faulted President Bush for his handling of the economy and national security -- one day before Bush is to deliver his State of the Union address.

Both Iraq and North Korea pose threats to America's security, but "only North Korea presents an immediate nuclear threat" and Bush has set the wrong priorities for protecting the nation, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said in a speech before the National Press Club.

"North Korea has long-range missile capacity, Iraq does not; North Korea is believed to have nuclear weapons, Iraq does not," the South Dakota Democrat said. He added that, unlike Iraq, "North Korea has shut down the international inspection process."

Daschle and Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, made their comments in what Democrats described as a "prebuttal" to the State of the Union address Bush will deliver Tuesday night.

"The state of our union today is anxious," Daschle said. "The triple threat of war, terrorism and recession are combining to make Americans unsure about their future and unclear about the course our nation is taking."

The comments by the two leaders are part of a more aggressive strategy by Democrats to challenge the Bush administration, especially after last fall's midterm elections in which the GOP made gains in the House and Senate. The sharper rhetoric also reflects the fact that both political parties have their eyes on 2004 -- when Bush will be up for re-election.

Bush should show the world what proof he has that Iraq has mass destruction weapons and stop squandering the goodwill of our allies on the issue -- goodwill the U.S. will need to prevent a terrorist attack on our shores, he said.

"In the end, we could win in Iraq, lose a battle against terrorism, and leave Americans less secure," the South Dakota Democrat said.

Daschle said the White House has given numerous reasons for the campaign against Iraq, including because Saddam Hussein "tried to kill the first President Bush," but the lack of an "abiding principle" means the president loses credibility both at home and abroad.

"One thing the American people know all too well is to be strong abroad, we need to be secure at home first," he said.

Daschle said the administration is not committing enough money to homeland security, a point disputed by the White House during a battle over funding earlier this month.

Pelosi said she hoped Bush would present "a message of hope and relevance" in Tuesday's address, adding that millions of Americans want jobs.

"Security also means economic security," she said. "We must create jobs now."

Democrats want an economic stimulus plan that would create a million jobs this year, the California congresswoman said.

Turning to a familiar Democratic criticism, Pelosi said that Bush's proposed tax cuts -- part of his 10-year, roughly $674 billion economic plan -- will benefit only the wealthiest Americans. She said about 50 percent of Americans would receive less than $l00 from those cuts.

"We need tax cuts to put money in the pockets of people who need it more and will spend it now," she said.


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