By Allen Powell Ii and Meghan Mullan
WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers said they liked the rhetoric in President Bush’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, but Democrats said it is time for the administration to move beyond rhetoric and focus on the details of the economy.
“Bush talks a good game but it doesn’t come for free,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, who charged the White House with “squandering our surplus.”
But Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, praised the speech, saying the president went beyond rhetoric provide Americans with a good explanation of the country’s place in the global community.
“It was good,” Gilchrest said of the speech. “(Bush) was able to articulate America’s role in the world, which is to help those who are hungry and poor and dying of disease.”
The president’s speech was warmly received by Congress, which interrupted the 60-minute speech with applause on 76 occasions, three times stopping for standing ovations.
Bush divided the speech about evenly between foreign and domestic, with the first half devoted to domestic issues.
The president conceded that unemployment has increased, and pushed for his economic stimulus package as the best way to create jobs.
“Every man and woman who seeks a job” should be able to get one, Bush said, urging Congress to pass his tax-cut plan now.
Even before the speech was delivered, however, Democrats were criticizing the president’s expected call for an economic stimulus plan, a plan that Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Mitchellville, called “tax cuts disguised in the form of economic stimulus.”
Other members of the state’s congressional delegation agreed that tax cuts are not the solution to the economy’s woes.
“The president’s plan will only add to the river of red ink and prevent us from keeping our promises to American schoolchildren and providing a real prescription drug benefit for seniors,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D- Kensington, in a prepared statement.
Bush also called for affordable health care, which he said could be achieved in part through medical liability reform to cut the legal costs of health care.
The president also outlined plans for increased spending on alternative fuels research and increased funding for faith-based initiatives.
On the international front, Bush called for increased funding for AIDS relief in Africa, before launching into an impassioned 20-minute defense of America’s ongoing war against terror.
“The war goes on and we are winning,” Bush said. “We have the terrorists on the run.”
He said the gravest danger to America comes from “outlaw regimes” that own weapons of mass destruction, vowing to protect the country against threats from Iran, North Korea and Iraq.
Bush saved his harshest comments for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, saying, “If this is not evil, than evil has no name.” For those who urged restraint, he said, that “trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy and is not an option.”
Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Frederick, said was slightly confused by Bush’s focus on Iraq rather than North Korea, whose leader Bartlett described as “a guy who’s bordering on insanity.”
But Bartlett said he is optimistic and confident about Bush’s ability to handle the threat of terrorism.
“I hope at the end of the day I can like his policy on Iraq as much as I like him,” Bartlett said of the president.
A spokesman for Sen. Paul Sarbanes D-Md., said that Bush’s comments still did not effectively describe how he was going to accomplish the lofty goals his administration has set forth.
“I think there is still a large gap between the president’s rhetoric and reality,” said Sarbanes spokesman Jesse Jacobs. “This excessive tax cut will not get the economy going, we need a boost in the economy now.”
Hoyer said in a prepared statement that President Bush must stop paying Americans’ priorities “lip service” and start developing plans that will actually benefit the majority of Americans.
“The honeymoon is over,” Hoyer said. “Only one-third of Americans believe our nation is headed in the right direction. Right now this administration is not effectively addressing America’s needs and our citizens.” — CNS reporters Gabriel Baird, Luciana Lopez, Sarah Schaffer, Elizabeth Shack and William Wan contributed to this report.