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AFTER A SPEECH SHORT ON DETAILS, AREA DELEGATION AWAITS THE SPECIFICS

It may have seemed as if President Bush was ushering in an era of good feelings with his aw-shucks, play-it-down-the-middle address to Congress on Tuesday night.

But New York's top congressional Democrats expect that era to end this morning, when the new Republican president begins releasing details of his budget plan.

The Bush budget will hold down federal spending in order to pay for his $1.6 trillion tax cut, and Democrats said those details matter much more than the bipartisan tone the president struck in his speech.

Commenting immediately after the speech, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said: "What it included was pretty good, but what was important was what it didn't include. It didn't include that most of the tax cut goes to people with higher incomes. It didn't include the fact that the education spending he's increasing is the smallest in a very long time."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., was equally skeptical.

"The devil is in the details, and we don't have the details," Clinton said in an interview after the speech. "Usually when you have a speech like this, you have the budget details, but we don't have them yet. The concern here is that the numbers won't add up."

Clinton spoke from experience. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, always loaded his State of the Union addresses with often-numbing budgetary detail, sometimes pushing speeches far past an hour in length.

Yet in a mere 49 minutes Tuesday night, Bush tried to reach out to Democrats with conciliatory rhetoric that thrilled the Republicans in the ranks.

"What I like about him is that he's candid, he's straightforward, he laces his speeches with humor," said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of Clarence.

And that regular-guy demeanor will go a long way toward selling the Bush tax and budget plan with a Congress that's nearly split between the two parties, Reynolds said.

Clinton, though, was serious as can be afterward. Braving a horde of reporters who wanted to talk about both the speech and the pardon controversy her husband started, Clinton stressed that she thinks Bush is taking the wrong approach to the federal budget.

"He wants to cut taxes by $1.6 trillion," she said. "My concern is that he cannot do that without raiding Social Security. And I personally believe we can pay down a lot more debt than he suggests."

Similarly, Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, said, "I remain extremely skeptical about the affordability and equity of his tax plan, and I am concerned about the trade-offs between his $2 trillion tax cut and pressing public priorities."

Democrats say that Bush's tax cut will cost far more than the $1.6 trillion he suggests it will cost, mainly because the president hasn't figured in the cost of making the plan retroactive to the first of this year, an idea that he adopted only recently.

Moreover, Democrats stress that the tax cut is aimed at the wealthy. LaFalce said the Bush plan could endanger funding for a Medicare prescription drug plan for seniors and the president's much-vaunted proposal for boosting the federal investment in education.

One other trade-off: "The estate tax revenue lost from just a handful of the wealthiest families could provide housing vouchers for every one of the almost 1 million homeless Americans," LaFalce said.

But Reynolds noted that the Bush tax cut would save the average American family $1,600 and said the president's education reform plan would have real results in the classroom.

"(Tuesday night's) speech signals that this president understands America's priorities and is prepared to lead our nation with responsible and effective solutions," Reynolds said.

Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, could not be reached to comment.

Rep. Amo Houghton, R-Corning, said Bush laid the groundwork for a successful attempt at cutting taxes.

"The president, true to form, was direct, not wordy, and set the stage for a total tax reform package," Houghton said.

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