Reaction to Bush address closely follows party lines WAR IN THE GULF

January 30, 1991|By Peter Osterlund | Peter Osterlund,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- It was "perfect" and a "real disappointment," "everything this kind of speech should be" and "hypocritical . . . a true letdown."

Republicans and Democrats cleaved along predictable lines after President Bush delivered his second State of the Union address last night, underscoring long-standing rifts and hinting at political battles yet to come.

Few, for example, dissented from Mr. Bush's contention that the United States would stand behind its troops and provide them with whatever moral and logistical support is needed to prevail over Saddam Hussein's forces.

Yet even statements of support were tinged with partisanship.

Republicans hailed their commander in chief as the visionary architect of a new world order. Democrats, for their part, hinted that the president had enmeshed this country in war that may be just but probably isn't wise.

That dualism was evident in the Democrats' official response, delivered on national television by Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine, once the president had threaded his way out of the packed House chamber.

"Now that war has begun, we'll work to see that it's swift and decisive, with the least possible loss of life," Mr. Mitchell said. Nevertheless, he noted, Democrats and Republicans had "debated openly, as democracy demands," the question of whether to authorize the use of force to dislodge Iraqi legions from Kuwait.

"The difference was not in the goals, but in the means: whether force should be used immediately, or only as a last resort if all other means failed. No one will know if the other course would have worked," he said.

He also attacked Mr. Bush's renewed call for a reduction in the tax imposed on capital gains income -- a plan, he contended, that would "give huge tax cuts to those with incomes over $200,000 a year" -- bypointing out that it is "mostly the children of working people, the middle class and the poor who will do the fighting and dying" in the Persian Gulf war.

Such words left some Republicans wincing at what they perceived to be a rear-guard fusillade against a president leading a nation through battle. Less clear was whether they were wincing at the attack itself or its suggestion of impending intramural skirmishes, as both parties gird themselves for a new presidential campaign.

"The majority leader and other Democrats are trashing the hTC president for being a Republican," said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. "They're taking cheap shots that he doesn't deserve."

In fact, the president seemed to set himself up for a few of those shots. His plea for a cut in the capital gains tax was greeted with sardonic, knowing grins from Democrats. His proposal to place Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan -- a Republican and supply-side conservative -- at the head of a bipartisan commission to determine the economic value of such a tax change met outright derision in some quarters.

"Sounds like a stacked deck to me," said Representative Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., who promptly collapsed into spasms of laughter at the thought.

Democrats also criticized the president -- as they so often lambasted his predecessor -- for promising much without suggesting how to pay for it.

"He's in a car driving 100 miles an hour into a brick wall," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, fulminated. "He wants to increase R&D [research and development] spending, cut taxes, take care of the environment, pay for the war . . . but he never says how he pays for it."

But a State of the Union address, Republicans said, is not the place to spread the bad news.

"The president was uplifting and unifying," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M. "That's what he's there for."

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