St. Louis -- THE MORNING AFTER President Bush's State of the Union message, Vice President Dan Quayle was out on the hustings pitching hard for quick action by Congress on Mr. Bush's program to end the recession, which is giving the Bush-Quayle ticket the political willies.
For months, the president had been taking heat from Democratic presidential candidates for his plea to voters to "stay tuned" for the State of the Union speech, and also from worried Republican leaders in New Hampshire who were informing the White House that jobless voters in the state holding the first 1992 primary were in no mood to wait.
Now, though, Mr. Bush has at last conveyed a sense of urgency by laying out his plan for economic recovery and demanding congressional action in 52 days, setting a March 20 deadline with a warning of "or else." The "or else" was a threat of political warfare thereafter if the Democratic-controlled Congress didn't buy his program. "From the day after that (March 20)," Mr. Bush said, "if it must be: the battle is joined."
Inasmuch as both Mr. Bush and Mr. Quayle had to know that the White House's plan would be denounced by the Democrats as too little, too late, it was clear that the Republican strategy would be to play politics from the start, setting the Democrats up for blame when the president's deadline came and went without congressional approval.
Now Mr. Quayle was carrying the message forth. At a press conference at a plant here that makes automobile diagnostic equipment, he professed to speak for the American people's reaction to the speech.
"They want action," he said, expressing the obvious. "They're tired of excuses. They don't want politics. They want to see something done. That's why it's so important the president put in his State of the Union address the March 20 deadline. Congress, given its normal tendencies, wouldn't pass anything until just before the election and at the last moment [would] try to tell voters they're actually helping them." It was an amusing observation, given Mr. Bush's conspicuous foot-dragging on an action plan to stem the recession, and the fact that major parts of the program he finally announced included executive actions he could have taken months earlier without congressional approval.
En route to a fund-raising lunch that added a reported $250,000 to the Bush-Quayle campaign coffers, Mr. Quayle Mr. dropped in on a Steak 'n Shake eatery to ask voters what they thought of the president's speech. Mr. Quayle did most of the talking, with leading observations like "Great speech, wasn't it? Right on target. . . . It sure was quiet on the Democratic side, when they realized how serious he [Mr. Bush] was on getting it through by March 20."
Mr. Quayle told the audience Mr. Bush had given Congress "a wake-up call" and it was "time to put politics aside and pass the capital gains tax reduction because that creates jobs for American workers."
The guests who plunked down $1,000 apiece to share lunch with Mr. Quayle were notably passive, and no tremors were felt when he declared that Mr. Bush's call for a 90-day moratorium on government regulations that could hinder economic growth would "hit Washington like an earthquake." He added: "Let the regulators know, they have met the enemy and it is the Competitiveness Council," which he chairs, and which has already been accused by Democrats as knuckling under to business interests.
Here and later in Louisville, Mr. Quayle dealt with the public clamor for health-care reform by saying Mr. Bush will present his proposals Feb. 6 and they would be "market-oriented," would focus on cost containment and access to quality care, and would provide coverage for the 14 percent of Americans who have no health insurance.
In Louisville, told of a CBS poll in which voters said Mr. Bush is still not in tune with the middle class, Mr. Quayle replied: "He is. . . . Either the polls told it wrong, or they didn't listen closely to what the president said." In any event, he said, critics and the press had set "a lot of heightened expectations" for the speech by putting "the bar up 10 feet and asking him to jump over it."
The high expectations, however, were the result of Mr. Bush's own months-long plea to "stay tuned." The bar is, indeed, up very high, but it's the president himself who raised it to the height that will make it hard to clear, even with Dan Quayle's earnest cheerleading.