Bush should bend to get partisan support
President Bush has called for moderate actions in his State of the Union address.
HIS public support hovering at low levels, President Bush avoided bold initiatives in his State of the Union address
and prescribed modest proposals for the year ahead. Even those goals, most of them already being debated in Congress, might be difficult to achieve. The president asks for bipartisan cooperation, but he must be willing to bend.
The speech was a sharp contrast to last year's address, which focused on a radical overhaul of Social Security. Congress gave little consideration to the proposal, and Bush is calling for a new commission to study the effect of baby-boom retirees on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while he tries to regain the political capital he claimed after his 2004 re-election.
Bush acknowledged that Americans face "a complex and challenging time," to which he can attest. His greatest task is to persuade the seven of every 10 Americans who now believe the country is headed in the wrong direction that it is on the right track.
The White House must deal with rising casualties in Iraq, skyrocketing health care costs, dissatisfaction with schools not only in Hawaii but across the country, increased fuel costs and rebuilding New Orleans. All those problems are difficult to address without adding to already unacceptable budget deficits. Bush called for making permanent the tax cuts that have benefited the rich.
Bush's freshest proposal was to commit the government to compete in technology with China and India, with their educated workforces and low wages. Improving the teaching of math and science and increasing federal support for research and development would cost $136 billion over 10 years, including $86 billion in making industry tax breaks permanent.
Such an effort is necessary, but Congress and the White House will be put to the test in finding such funds while coping with the many other problems.
Energy initiative lacks vigor
Prior to the address, the White House previewed part of Bush's message with the quote, "America is addicted to oil." That appeared to have tantalizing potential for a major shift in U.S. energy policy.
Though the statement is a given, acknowledgment from a former Texas oil man -- whose previous energy initiatives swayed chiefly toward boosting fossil fuel production -- raised hopes that the president would announce aggressive proposals to stem the growing need for oil.
That didn't quite happen. Bush's timid submissions for more ethanol development, "zero-emission coal-fired plants" and nuclear energy abandons the nation to a shaky economic future and insecurity in the global war on terrorism.
Without a national effort to break oil's hold, state governments must do their best to at least loosen the grip. Hawaii, with a wealth of renewable resources at hand, is taking some steps to cut its needs. Governor Lingle and state lawmakers agree on several proposals to shift or expand funds for necessary incentives and development, but are meeting resistance from oil and utility industries.
Since 68 percent of the nation's oil use goes to transportation, Bush's focus on ethanol, a fuel that can be made from sugar cane, corn and other plants, was worthy. However, the administration and its allies in Congress have refused to raise fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars and sent tens of millions of dollars to oil companies while providing just a small percentage for alternatives. Having recorded historic high profits in the past year, it is hard to argue that Exxon and Chevron really need taxpayer money for their operations.
Americans now recognize the perils of an oil-based economy and though the president admits our addiction, he has missed an opportunity to lead on an issue that has both domestic and foreign policy import.