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Democrats Urge Domestic Focus as Bush Addresses ‘Anxious’ Union

Corzine, Landrieu Offer Payroll Tax Exemption

With the State of the Union address just a few days away, Senate Democrats took the fight to President Bush on Thursday, calling on him to address domestic issues in Tuesday’s nationally televised speech to Congress.

Thirty-seven Democrats, joined by Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.), penned a letter to Bush telling him that most Americans would describe the state of the union as “anxious” and urging him to discuss the economy, education, health care, homeland security, the environment and small-business issues in his address.

“Anxious Americans deserve more than empty rhetoric or promises — they deserve honest leadership to forge real solutions to the problems that confront us,” the letter read.

Speaking at a press event, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) drove home the Democratic message that Bush will have to pay attention to more than just Iraq if he wants the public’s support.

“He cannot just focus on Baghdad, but on moms and dads and their immediate concerns,” Durbin quipped.

Democrats hammered Bush over the 2.4 million jobs that have been lost during his term, saying Americans must be made to feel that they have some job security.

Acting as if they were speaking to Bush, the Senators repeatedly asked direct questions and made direct statements.

On the environment, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) concluded: “The American people want to know why you have this dismal [environmental] record, … Mr. President.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the Bush administration “schizophrenic on terrorism,” saying it is willing to spend money overseas but is shortchanging homeland defense efforts.

They also railed against his tax cut proposal, building momentum for their alternative, which Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) will unveil in a speech Friday in Cleveland.

But two Democrats — Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Jon Corzine (N.J.) — did not wait for Daschle and introduced their own proposal Thursday.

The bill would exempt the first $10,000 of a worker’s salary from Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, effectively giving a $765 rebate to workers and a tax credit to businesses, Corzine said. Their plan would cost about $170 billion and be in effect for only one year.

By reducing workers’ payroll taxes, more people will have more money in their pockets immediately to help stimulate the economy, they said.

The bill “doesn’t reward one income group or punish another, it helps everyone equally regardless of whether they earn a lot or a little, and it pumps money back into our economy, which we need right now,” Landrieu said.

It would help more people, Corzine said, as three out of four Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in income tax.

While Senate Democrats are just starting to concretely counter Bush’s $674 economic stimulus proposal, House Democrats beat everyone to the punch by introducing a one-year, $136 billion package Jan. 6 — one day before Bush announced his plan.

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