|January 24, 2007|
||Straddling The New And The Old|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
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The Progress Report team would like to bid a fond farewell to our great friend, mentor, and former editor, Judd Legum, who is leaving the Center for American Progress for the exhilarating confines of a presidential campaign. Please send your goodbye wishes to firstname.lastname@example.org. We miss him already.
Reflecting the dire political circumstances in which he now finds himself, President Bush delivered a State of the Union address last night that was “limited in ambition and political punch” and devoid of major new bold proposals. Rhetorically, Bush offered areas for bipartisan cooperation on some domestic issues, particularly on energy, education, and immigration. Yet, on the issue at the forefront of the minds of most Americans — Iraq — Bush spent half of the speech trying to defend his deeply unpopular and misguided escalation strategy, trying to rally the nation once again by linking the conflict to the events of 9/11. In doing so, the speech did little to change the fact that Bush finds himself “politically weakened and increasingly isolated” from much of the nation.
HEALTH CARE PROPOSAL IGNORES COST AND COVERAGE ISSUES: Bush last night said he would propose offering a standard tax deduction for all who buy insurance, a step “that would make only a tiny dent in a huge problem.” The initiative is aimed at rewarding people who buy their own health insurance in the individual market, consistent with the president’s notion that “private health insurance is the best way to meet” the needs of Americans who seek coverage. But for those who need health care the most — including the 47 million uninsured in this country — the private market fails to provide affordable coverage. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, people who aren’t in perfect health are largely unable to buy individual health insurance. The study found “roughly 90 percent of applicants in what’s known as less-than-perfect health were unable to buy individual policies at standard rates, while 37 percent were rejected outright.” The president also proposed to throw the real work of providing health coverage to the uninsured to the states, through the Affordable Choices initiative. This states-based approach would give participating states new federal dollars to promote private coverage — but would not support the proven approaches states use today to expand coverage through public programs.
ENERGY PROPOSALS FAIL TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE: Bush proposed cutting the projected use of gasoline by 20 percent over the next 10 years, in addition to offering a nearly fivefold mandatory increase in the production of ethanol and other alternative fuels for cars and trucks. While Bush’s call for an increase in renewable fuels — mainly ethanol — and tougher mileage standards were welcome developments, he was largely silent on the need for energy efficiency and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. For the first time, the president mentioned “the serious challenge of global climate change” in a State of the Union. Yet, he gave no indication that he is backing off his previous denials of global warming science, and he continues to reject any binding measures to cap and reduce America’s carbon emissions that cause global warming. Moreover, the new standards Bush announced may open the door to promoting the production of more environmentally-harmful pollutants, particularly liquefied coal when used as an alternative transportation fuel. “If liquefied coal, which produces double the heat-trapping gases of regular gasoline, is part of the alternative-fuel mix — as coal-industry lobbyists and environmental groups say is the case — the emissions reductions would fall significantly.”
FAILED TO MENTION KATRINA: Last night’s address did not contain a single mention of Hurricane Katrina or the ongoing Gulf Coast reconstruction effort. During last year’s State of the Union, Bush said the federal government was committed to rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and promised to “stay…at it until they’re back on their feet.” The work of rebuilding the Gulf Coast is far from over. House Financial Services Committe Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) says he believes the neglect of the housing situation in New Orleans effectively amounts to “ethnic cleansing through inaction,” a deliberate attempt to make Louisiana richer, whiter, and more conservative. The Institute for Southern Studies reported yesterday that Louisiana is “still largely an economic disaster area as a result of Katrina.” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said, “It was a glaring omission. Much of the vast devastation left by Katrina and Rita remains, and the job of recovery is far from finished. We need the President’s leadership and partnership to meet these challenges, and we needed to hear his commitment tonight.”
BUSH STANDS IN ISOLATION ON IRAQ ESCALATION: In the lead-up to the State of the Union, the media reported that the speech would be “dominated by domestic issues.” Yet, Bush devoted a large portion of his speech to defend his escalation plan for Iraq. The president claimed he chose to place 21,500 more troops into the middle of Iraq’s civil war because “it provides the best chance of success.” In reality, the escalation strategy has been recently tried and failed. During the last six months, the United States has increased — or “surged” — the number of American troops in Baghdad by 12,000, yet the violence and deaths of Americans and Iraqis has climbed alarmingly, averaging 960 a week since the latest troop increase. Addressing members of Congress, Bush said many of them “understand that America must not fail in Iraq.” But Congress also understands that Bush’s troop escalation is not a formula for success. Already, influential conservative voices like those of Sens. John Warner (R-VA), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and others have said they cannot support the president.
‘WE’LL SHOW HIM THE WAY’: Sen. James Webb (D-VA), who served as Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan and whose son served in Iraq, offered a powerful and aggressive response to Bush’s address. On Iraq, Webb said, “The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought, nor do the majority of our military, nor does a majority of our Congress.” Bush “took us into this war recklessly,” he said, and the United States is now “held hostage to the predictable and predicted disarray that followed.” Webb also criticized Bush for presiding over an era of economic injustice, noting that in some cases, “it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.” “It’s almost as if we are living in two different countries,” Webb said, highlighting the fact that corporate profits are reaching new highs, but that those benefits have been reserved for the few. “The middle class of this country — our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future — is losing its place at the table.” Webb called for “a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq,” and said that if Bush did not change course in Iraq and in his economic policies, “we will be showing him the way.”
President Bush used the word Iraq 37 times in his State of the Union last night, more than in any other year. He said the word “freedom” just three times, fewer than in any other year. (Compare word usage with this interactive graph.)
President Bush said yesterday that he has a “goal of reducing U.S. gasoline usage by 20 percent in the next 10 years.” The Washington Post notes the fine print: “Administration officials said that the goal is 20 percent below projected annual gasoline usage, not off today’s levels,” meaning “that carbon dioxide emissions from transportation fuels will drop only slightly from today’s levels; other parts of the economy produce the other two-thirds of greenhouse gases.”
“Democrats took the first step toward a wartime repudiation of President Bush on Wednesday, convening the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to approve nonbinding legislation saying an increase in troops in Iraq is ‘not in the national interest.'” Senators are working to combine two bipartisan anti-escalation measures to ensure maximum support.
The House yesterday joined the Senate and voted to strip pensions from lawmakers “convicted of crimes such as bribery, fraud and perjury.”
“As chaos has deepened” in Iraq, the Iraqi Parliament “has been at a standstill.” “Nearly every session since November has been adjourned because as few as 65 members made it to work,” and officials fear “that members were losing confidence in the institution and in the country’s fragile democracy.”
Just two weeks after President Bush announced his escalation plan for Iraq, sectarian “violence in Iraq’s capital has spiked in recent days, even as the first US and Iraqi government military reinforcements have deployed into the embattled city.” One hundred Iraqis were reported killed or found dead and another 56 were wounded yesterday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “on his first overseas trip as head of the world body,” will pressure “Sudan’s president next week to speed up the peace process in Darfur, which has been delayed by months of wrangling over the makeup of a larger peacekeeping force.”
“Pregnant polar bears in Alaska, which spend most of their lives on sea ice, are increasingly giving birth on land, according to researchers who say global warming is probably to blame.”
And finally: President Rush Limbaugh and Vice President Ann Coulter: If that’s your idea of comedy, you’ll love Fox News’ new Daily Show-style “comedy” show, which is already taping episodes. Limbaugh crowed about his cameo during his radio show last week. “It’s hilarious. The whole thing is hilarious.” One source at the taping told Radar the taping was “hit and miss — some stuff was inspired, and some was droppable, to say the least.”