Democratic response to Douglas’ inaugural address

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(Dillon) And I’m John Dillon.

Moments after the governor’s speech, Democrats crowded into their new Statehouse caucus room, the one reserved for the majority party. They were there to give their party’s reaction to the governor’s inaugural address. But it started out almost as a political pep rally.

(Welch) “On behalf of all of us, I really want to extend heartfelt congratulations from all of us to House Speaker Gaye Symington.”

(Dillon) The Democrats promised to pass a prescription drug importation bill by Town Meeting Day. They pledged to work with the governor on health care and other issues.

Senate President Peter Welch, who gave his party’s response to the governor’s speech, avoided direct criticism of the governor but was defiant about the programs Democrats hold dear.

Welch pointed out that Medicaid is used by working people for health care. He promised to protect Medicaid — including the Doctor Dynasaur program that provides health care for children — from those who criticize it as too generous.

(Welch) “We’re not going to, as you climb that ladder of opportunity, stomp on your fingernails and push you down. That’s what we’ve done with Dr. Dynasaur in Vermont. That’s what’s at stake. That’s a program that’s worth defending, particularly when the cause of the problem is a disgraceful policy at the federal level.”

(Dillon) Welch blamed federal policies for some of the fiscal problems facing Vermont and other states. He said tax cuts and the huge budget deficits exacerbated by the war in Iraq have limited federal spending for vital programs, including Medicaid.

(Welch) “When the history of this decade is written and the question of how the federal government lost its way was responded to by the American people, the historians are going to write it was the citizen legislatures and the governors of 50 states that helped America return to its path of Democratic ideals. I truly believe this.”

(Dillon) Welch also said Democrats will take a hard look at the state’s transportation budget. And he asked for help from the state’s judiciary to look at the problem of overcrowded prisons.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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