Dems: Economy, Health Care Hurting

America under President Bush has been left with fewer jobs and not enough money for security, education and health, Democrats said Tuesday in a combative response to Mr. Bush's State of the Union speech.

"In too many ways, our country is headed in the wrong direction," Gov. Gary Locke of Washington state said in the official response from Democrats, who lost control of the Senate in the November elections and saw Republicans increase their majority in the House. He called Mr. Bush's plan to stimulate the economy "upside-down economics."

Locke, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, also took issue with Mr. Bush's assertion that he doesn't need U.N. approval to use military force against Iraq.

"We support the president in the course he has followed so far," including working with the United Nations to insist on strong weapons inspections, Locke said. But "we need allies today, in 2003, just as much as we needed them in Desert Storm and just as we needed them on D-Day in 1944."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said after the president's address that he will seek votes in the House and Senate on a new resolution requiring Mr. Bush to present "convincing evidence of an imminent threat" before sending troops to fight Iraq. Kennedy said the president "did not make a persuasive case that the threat is imminent and that war is the only alternative."

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said in a statement: "President Bush failed to demonstrate that there is an immediate threat from Iraq to us or our allies."

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said that while Mr. Bush has the authority he needs to use force against Iraq, "I think it would be important for Congress to have an open debate" about unanswered questions.

Locke's response was markedly more critical than the Democratic reaction to Mr. Bush's first State of the Union speech a year ago, when then-House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, speaking only four months after the Sept. 11 attacks, pledged strong support for the president in his war on terrorism.

Now, Democrats are trying to regain the offensive after suffering unexpected losses in last November's election, while focusing on the nation's growing concerns over the faltering economy and the threat of war with Iraq.

Locke, whose state has been among the hardest-hit by the economic downturn, said that under Bush's policies "states and cities now face our worst budget crises since World War II."

"We're being forced to cut vital services from police to fire to health care," he said. "We need a White House that understands the challenges our communities and people are facing across America."

Locke said Mr. Bush's 10-year, $674 billion plan to rejuvenate the economy, mainly through tax cuts, was "upside-down economics. It does too little to stimulate the economy now and does too much to weaken our economic future."

Locke's selection to represent the party this year reflected the growing power of Democratic governors. While congressional Democrats gave ground, governors picked up four seats, for a total of 24. He is the nation's first Chinese-American governor.

He led a chorus of Democratic criticisms of the president, joined by Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who said Mr. Bush "has promised a strong economy, and the result of two years of his effort have been 2 million jobs lost, a deficit of now $400 billion, a plummeting stock market and 1 million people without unemployment insurance compensation."

"He promised a strong homeland defense, and yet we have first responders who have no resources, we have yet to find two-thirds of al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden," Daschle said.