President Bush, hitting back at Democrats' charges that he has neglected the nation's domestic problems, said Wednesday that passage of the administration's anti-crime and transportation bills had been stymied by congressional "inaction" and "bickering." In a highly partisan speech that sounded like the opening salvo of a re-election campaign, Bush attacked the Democratic-controlled Congress for failing to meet the 100-day deadline that the president himself had set for enactment of the two bills.
Bush, who earlier was accused by Democratic leaders of arbitrarily setting the deadline for political purposes, said that he was "disappointed, but not surprised" that the bills will not have been passed by Friday when the deadline falls.
Anticipating the president's attack, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, had accused Bush of "a new low in political cynicism" for criticizing Congress for inaction on the transportation bill.
Mitchell said a Republican senator, John Warner of Virginia, had been blocking action on the measure for three days in a dispute over allocation of highway funds to states.
The president's speech, delivered before some 2,200 invited guests, contained no new proposals for dealing with the nation's domestic problems.
Instead, it was sprinkled with anecdotes about individual successes recorded under his "points of light" program recognizing voluntary community action.
The major television networks declined to provide live coverage for the speech after the White House announced in advance that there would be no new proposals and it became apparent that the speech would be a partisan address.
Bush, saying that he had not invited his guests to "sit through a litany of programs and policies," said: "The good news is that the free market is now applying its resources and know-how to our social problems."
Many companies are leaders of "a revolution in American education," partners with the government in the administration's education program, "America 2000 Strategy," Bush said.
"Others are crusaders for environmental protection, while still others are innovators from health care to child care."
Until recently, Democrats had been reluctant to attack Bush while he has basked in the glow of public opinion ratings in the 70 percent area.
But they launched a concerted attack before the president's speech, with House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., blasting Bush's speech as a "photo opportunity in Mr. Bush's Polaroid presidency."
The president said that he would keep working with Congress _ "my hand remains extended _ I'll keep bringing them along," he added. "But we cannot let Congress discourage or deter us from meeting our responsibilities."
Bush's speech, delivered on the South lawn with the Washington Monument as a backdrop, coincided with his 67th birthday.
The president's audience included a broad section of members of Congress, local elected officials, educators, law officers, United Way officials, and recent graduates of an adult high school in Seaford, Del.