Gephardt calls for bipartisanship at home, too
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democrats and Republicans should put partisanship aside and work together on domestic issues with the same unity seen in the war against terrorism, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt said Tuesday in the Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union address.
"I refuse to accept that while we stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the war, we should stand toe-to-toe on the economy," Gephardt said.
"We need to find a way to respect each other, trust each other and work together to solve the long-term challenges America faces," said Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat, in a televised broadcast following the president's speech.
Despite his strong call for bipartisanship, Gephardt also made references to several issues on which Democrats have sharp differences with Bush and his Republican allies:
-- He said Democrats want to work with Bush to reduce dependence on imported oil "while preserving our environment."
Many environmentalists and their Democratic allies have criticized Bush's energy plan for being overly reliant on new oil production, including opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling.
-- Gephardt said that "our values call for protecting Social Security and not gambling it away on the stock market," a reference to Bush's proposal to allow American workers to privately invest part of the money they now pay into Social Security.
-- He also reiterated support for a patient's bill of rights that would help "patients and older Americans, not just big HMOs and pharmaceutical companies."
The White House and Democrats in Congress have been at odds over the scope of patients' rights legislation, with Democrats insisting that GOP-backed plans benefit HMOs while shortchanging patients.
Gephardt also called for an increase in the minimum wage and a new tax break that would make the first $10,000 of educational expenses deductible.
And he voiced support for a universal pension system that would follow workers from job to job through life and protect them from "the next Enron."
Thousands of Enron Corp. workers saw the value of their retirement accounts plummet as the stock of the Houston-based energy company collapsed last year. Enron filed for Chapter 11 protection in December, the largest business bankruptcy in American history.
Enron and its executives gave large campaign contributions to members of both parties, though it gave Republicans more than Democrats.
Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay was a long-time financial supporter of the president, though White House officials insist the troubled company got no special treatment.
Gephardt said the Enron case highlights the need for Congress to pass a campaign finance reform bill -- and for Bush to sign it.
"If the nation's largest bankruptcy, coupled with a clear example of paid political influence, isn't a prime case for reform, I don't know what is," he said.
"I hope the president will stand with us to clean up the political system and get big money out of politics."
But, while drawing attention to some of the differences between Democrats and Republicans on domestic issues, Gephardt made it clear that his fellow Democrats are behind Bush as he fights the war against terrorism.
Gephardt renewed his call for an economic growth summit next month, with leaders from both parties coming together at the White House "to figure out how we're going to help businesses create jobs, reduce the deficit, simplify the tax code and grow our economy."
"There were two parties tonight in the House chamber, but one resolve," he said. "Like generations that came before us, we will pay any price and bear any burden to make sure that this proud nation wins the first war of the 21st century."