In radio response, Cummings criticizes GOP tax, budget plans

Bush address focuses on U.S. troops in Iraq

April 20, 2003|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore got a moment in the national spotlight yesterday as he delivered the Democratic "response" to President Bush's weekly radio address.

Cummings, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, criticized the president and the Republican Congress for their tax and budget proposals while Bush delivered an Easter-Passover message focused on American troops in Iraq and the families awaiting their return home.

"For the Republican majority in the Congress and the president, the choice is very simple," Cummings said in a biting critique. "They will either invest in the American people's future, helping to provide better schools, health care and jobs as Democrats propose, or they will give away a gigantic tax cut that disproportionately benefits wealthy Americans and puts our country further in debt."

An hour earlier, Bush said, "This year, Easter and Passover have special meaning for the families of our men and women in uniform who feel so intensely the absence of their loved ones during these days."

He told a nationwide audience, "As a nation, we continue to pray for all those who serve in our military and those who remain in harm's way. We also pray for those who have lost people they love in this war."

Cummings recorded his four-minute address Thursday afternoon at WBAL radio in Baltimore. The president recorded his address last week in Washington before leaving for Crawford, Texas, where he is spending the Easter holiday.

After the recording session, Cummings said he was "very pleased and very excited" to have been tapped by Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader in the House and a native of Baltimore, to give the remarks.

Cummings is the second Baltimorean to give the Democrats' Saturday morning radio address this year. Mayor Martin O'Malley was chosen by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to deliver the message Jan. 25.

For Cummings, a seven-year veteran on Capitol Hill, yesterday's brief speech was another sign that he is assuming a higher national profile since his selection in December to head the 39-member Congressional Black Caucus.

Though he and the black caucus had billed yesterday's address as a "response" to the president, Cummings said Thursday that he had no advance word on the topic of President Bush's address. The 7th District Democrat speculated that it would be taxes and spending, based on congressional approval a week earlier of a budget resolution, the fact that Bush had spoken two days earlier of tax cuts and had sent officials to promote his agenda across the country.

In a Rose Garden speech April 15, Bush had scaled back his bid for a tax cut in the face of stiff resistance on Capitol Hill. Abandoning his request for a $726 billion reduction over 10 years, Bush said the nation needs "at least $550 billion" in tax relief.

That is the figure approved by the House in the annual budget resolution it passed before Congress dismissed for a two-week Easter-Passover recess. Across the Capitol, the Senate had approved a $350 billion reduction.

Democrats have been sharply critical of the president's proposals, the Republican budget resolutions and the tax cuts Bush won from Congress in 2001, saying they jeopardize the nation's future and threaten to enlarge ballooning deficits while giving most of the benefit to the wealthiest Americans.

Cummings repeated those themes in his radio speech.

His remarks came as a new poll showed that the Democratic drumbeat may be taking hold. Releasing a new poll Friday, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said, "Fully 41 percent cite the economy, unemployment or the budget deficit as the biggest problem facing the nation."

The survey of 924 Americans, conducted April 10-16, also showed that Bush enjoys an overall job approval rating of 72 percent.

In his radio address, Cummings hammered the president and the GOP.

"According to the Republican budget," he said, "cutting taxes that disproportionately benefit wealthy Americans is the single most important thing that we can do during these difficult economic times and while our country is at war." Saying that more than 2 million "payroll jobs" have been lost since Bush took office, Cummings said, "We need to get America's families back to work."

He also took a swipe at the 10-year tax cut adopted in 2001, a package that Congress has not made permanent.

If that cut is made permanent, he said, "the total benefits that would be provided to just the top 1 percent of taxpayers in America would be one and one-half times more than the size of the entire budget for the U.S. Department of Education."

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