WASHINGTON -- Democrats and Republicans alike lustily applauded President Bush last night -- until the commander in chief turned his remarks from the troubles in the Persian Gulf to the problems with the budget deficit.
Judging from the enthusiastic response to his remarks during his appearance before a joint session of Congress, Mr. Bush need not worry about congressional support for his strategy against Iraq, though lawmakers from both parties expressed disappointment that the president did not demand a greater monetary contribution to the U.S. military effort from Japan, Germany and other wealthy allies.
"I'm not satisfied with a $1 billion contribution from Japan and $8 billion from Germany. It stinks," fumed Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y. Representative Robert T. Matsui, D-Calif, agreed: "He should have challenged Japan to do more. They're not doing nearly enough."
But as Mr. Bush spoke of deficits and taxes, and the need of "Congress" to "get me a budget," the Democratic side of the House chamber fell noticeably quiet. The contrast was at its starkest as Republicans on the opposite side of the aisle whooped and cheered to Mr. Bush's call for a cut in the capital gains tax rate, a move opposed by many Democratic leaders.
Afterward, the reaction to Mr. Bush's budget remarks cleaved along characteristically partisan lines, underscoring a bitter rift on the issue that continues to divide Republicans from Democrats and has hampered efforts to reach agreement on a sweeping agreement to reduce the deficit.
Several Democrats ruefully noted Mr. Bush's call for "growth-oriented tax measures" -- all of which, in the president's speech, involved various forms of tax reductions.
"I thought his tax litany was not a bridge to compromise. The president talks of taxes, and every one's a cut," said Representative Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. "A budget agreement may be more difficult after these kinds of remarks than it was before the speech."
"Not helpful," echoed House Budget Committee Chairman Leon E. Panetta, D-Calif., one of the negotiators locked in marathon talks to assemble an agreement on the deficit. "Laughable" was how Democratic National Committee Chairman Ron Brown described it.
Republicans drew exactly the opposite conclusion. "I thought the president was very conciliatory," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. "It is going to be easier to get an agreement ... and we're very close to getting there."
Mr. Bush's remarks on the Iraqi crisis drew praise from virtually every member of Congress. "The president has asked for our support. He has it," said House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri in the Democrats' televised response that followed Mr. Bush's address.
"We are now in the Persian Gulf not simply for oil, or to save emirs and kings, but to defend the most fundamental values of a more stable and decent world."
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., praised the president for suggesting that the very legitimacy of the nascent post-Cold War order was being tested by the world's unity in its response to Iraq. "It's an interesting test," said Mr. Sarbanes.
Agreed Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd: "It's important that the president emphasize the issue of unity -- unity not only in America but throughout the world."