Md. Delegation Critical of Bush Speech

By Capital News Service Staff

WASHINGTON - President Bush began his State of the Union address Tuesday by invoking the name of one of Maryland's most famous politicians, the late Baltimore congressman and Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro, and complimenting D'Alesandro's daughter, Nancy Pelosi, on becoming the first female speaker of the House.

But if the names were intended as a charm to ward off criticism from Democrats, now in charge of Congress, and Marylanders, now in the top two posts in the House, the incantation was not as effective in Republican hands.

"If we are going to find the right solutions to challenges on immigration, health care, Social Security and Iraq, then bipartisanship must rule the day, said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, in a prepared statement. "Mere words by the president are not going to get the job done."

President Bush's address was his first to a Democratic Congress. Democrats took control of the House and Senate after the November 2006 elections, largely riding a wave of public disapproval of the war in Iraq. And although other issues were discussed, Iraq dominated the president's address, and Bush asked for support for his "new strategy."

"Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned and our own security at risk," Bush said. "Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve and turn events toward victory."

The president said he was convening a bipartisan special advisory panel to work with him on Iraq solutions.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, answered the president: "Well, the fact is that it's what the President is doing, really, that's exacerbated the problem and everyone will tell you that," he said, adding that he heard earlier in the day from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told his Armed Services Committee that the war could last another eight to 12 years.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, agreed that something must be done in Iraq, but it might not happen Bush's way.

"He wants a blank check," Van Hollen said after the speech. "But times have changed and that's not going to happen. We look forward to working with him and finding a new way forward."

A new CBS news poll shows Bush's approval rating has sunk to 28 percent, and two-thirds of the country opposes his plan to bolster U.S. troop strength in Iraq by 21,000.

A Gallup Poll in mid-January found Bush's approval rating at 36 percent, while another of its polls showed that just 35 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way the country is going today.

Cooperation was a theme that ran through the president's speech and the Maryland delegation's reactions.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said "We are ready to work with him. We sure hope he is ready to work with us."

But she made it clear that Bush's call for increasing troop strength in Iraq was not going to be approved without question.

"A strong American military cannot be a substitute for a weak Iraqi government," Mikulski said in a statement before the president's speech. "The stronger we are, the more permission we give the Iraq government to be weak. The Iraqi government must come up with its own plan, and Bush must lead a diplomatic initiative, not a new troop initiative."

The president's call for a reduction in energy dependence by encouraging use of alternative fuels and discouraging low gas mileage won favor with Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, who plans a morning news conference to discuss the president's plan.

Bartlett is a longtime proponent of the "peak oil" theory—that the world has already passed the halfway point of its oil reserves and depletion will come all too fast at current rates of consumption.

The House is fresh off its successful passage of its "100 Hours" agenda: implementing the 9/11 commission report recommendations, increasing the minimum wage, expanding stem cell research, negotiating prescription drug costs, cutting student loan interest rates and ending $14 billion in oil subsidies.

Bush has promised to veto the bills on stem cell research and prescription drug costs.

Capital News Service reporters Hallie Falquet, Esther Nguonly, Patricia Murret and Scott Shewfelt contributed to this report.

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