Congress, not Bush, will set agenda for rest of his term
President Bush proposed health care and energy initiatives as well as urging patience in Iraq in his State of the Union address.
HAVING spent his political capital on an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, President Bush is hardly in a position to set an agenda for a newly Democratic Congress. Most of the domestic initiatives delivered in his State of the Union address
will be considered only as input in areas that Congress would have addressed anyway. Immigration reform seems to be the only issue where the White House and Capitol Hill appear to be on common ground, and they should act positively.
If the cordiality of Tuesday night's festival suggested otherwise, the harsh and eloquent response by Virginia wordsmith and newly elected Democratic Sen. Jim Webb was a reminder of his party's hostility toward Bush for "recklessly" taking the country to war. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee provided a swift encore yesterday with approval of a resolution opposing increased troop strength in Iraq.
Just as Bush will try to ignore the resolution, which reflects overwhelming public opinion, Congress will pay little if any attention to most of the president's domestic proposals. Leading Democrats quickly dismissed a groundbreaking initiative that would create a standard tax deduction for health insurance. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, said he won't bother even to hold hearings on the proposal.
Bush called for measures aimed at reducing projected gasoline consumption by 20 percent in the next decade by increasing the production and use of ethanol and other alternative fuels to cut oil imports from the Middle East. That would involve the conversion of millions of acres of land, with environmental repercussions.
After years of denying the reality of global warming, he referred to "the serious challenge of global climate change" without mentioning emissions from power plants and factories, the main source of greenhouse gases. Congress will go its own direction on that and other energy issues.
Bush's proposed immigration overhaul, including a path for illegal immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship, is favored more by Democrats than Republicans. Stalled in the last Congress, needed reform now is more promising.
However, in the final two years of the Bush administration, the president and Congress will be preoccupied with Iraq. Bush announced plans earlier this month to send 21,500 troops to join the 132,000 troops now in Iraq to combat sectarian insurgencies in Baghdad and the western province of Anbar.
Bush said the new strategy includes benchmarks for Iraqis, cautioning them that America's commitment is not open-ended. However, Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, named to be the top commander in Iraq, testified this week that the addition of troops will not be completed until May and indications of the plan's success will not be apparent until late summer -- a daunting test of America's patience.