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State of the Union: What Bush Will Say , What You Need to Know
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State of the Union: What Bush Will Say , What You Need to Know

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As President Bush gives his sixth State of the Union address, his approval rating is at a record low and dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq is increasing.

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MARYLAND: Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) embraces “clean-car” initiative.

DELAWARE: Questionable legislative ethics.

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“The president listened too much to the Vice President … Of course, the president bears the ultimate responsibility, but he was very badly served by both the Vice President and, most of all, the Secretary of Defense.”
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  January 23, 2007
What Bush Will Say, What You Need To Know
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What Bush Will Say, What You Need To Know

Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution says: “The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Tonight, President Bush will do just that, delivering his sixth State of the Union address at 9 pm EST. He enters the speech with his political standing in its weakest state, highlighted by a record-low approval rating of 28 percent and growing dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq. In the address, “Bush plans to dangle ideas — some new, some recycled — on reducing America’s oil dependence and making health care more available, among others.” If history is any judge, the speech will be filled with a series of proposals that either go unfulfilled or are forgotten entirely. Below we tell you what to expect and what you need to know.

Health Care — Tax Incentive

What Bush Will Say: “We need to fix these problems, and one way to do so is to treat health insurance more like home ownership. The current tax code encourages home ownership by allowing you to deduct the interest on your mortgage from your taxes. We can reform the tax code, so that it provides a similar incentive for you to buy health insurance. So in my State of the Union Address next Tuesday, I will propose a tax reform designed to help make basic private health insurance more affordable — whether you get it through your job or on your own.” [1/20/07]

What You Need To Know: Bush’s health care plan fails to help the nearly 47 million Americans without health insurance, will cause employers to drop health coverage without any real alternative, and put health care out of reach for millions of Americans.

UNINSURED AMERICANS WILL RECEIVE LITTLE HELP AND MUST TURN TO EXPENSIVE COVERAGE: This scheme would replace one regressive, flawed tax deduction with another — and since most uninsured Americans pay low or no taxes, they would receive little help from this plan. In addition, Karen Pollitz, a Georgetown University researcher who co-authored a 2001 study on the individual health-insurance market for the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that people who aren’t in perfect health are largely unable to buy individual health insurance. In her study, Pollitz found that “roughly 90% of applicants in what’s known as less-than-perfect health were unable to buy individual policies at standard rates, while 37% were rejected outright.” Individual health insurers may deny coverage to people based on their medial history, or put them in “a high-risk category that it makes health coverage too expensive.”

BUSH’S PLAN WILL DISCOURAGE EMPLOYERS FROM OFFERING QUALITY COVERAGE: Sixty-one percent of companies offer at least some of their employees health insurance, a drop of 8 percentage points since 2000. Additionally, the Washington Post notes that there’s “a danger that ending the tax privilege for employer-provided insurance will cause companies to discontinue coverage, driving more buyers into the individual market, where it’s hard to buy insurance at a reasonable price.” American Progress senior fellow Jeanne Lambrew added in a June 2006 piece in Tax Notes, that “the tax exclusion is a thread that, if pulled in isolation, could unravel health coverage in the United States” and even “minor changes to the exclusion could accelerate the recent trends” of employers dropping coverage for the 175 million Americans who receive employer-sponsored coverage.

Health Care — Health Savings Accounts

What Bush Will Say:  “We created Health Savings Accounts, which empower patients and can reduce the cost of coverage.” [1/20/07]

What You Need to Know:
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) increase the number of uninsured, do not offer savings on health care costs for average Americans, and primarily benefit the wealthy.

HSAS DO NOT OFFER MEANINGFUL SAVINGS FOR AMERICANS:  “Low- and middle-income uninsured people will gain meager or no tax savings” from health savings accounts, according to a Commonwealth Fund study. Roughly 50 percent of uninsured adults pay no federal  income taxes, meaning that “tax incentives for high-deductible health plans would have little impact on uninsured adults.” Moreover, “uninsured people in the middle income tax bracket would see potential savings of just 3 percent to 6 percent on a typical high-deductible health plan premium of $2,000.”

HSAS PRIMARILY BENEFIT THE RICH: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found “that the average income of HSA users was $133,000 in 2004, compared to $51,000 for all non-elderly tax filers.” Additionally, these HSAs are being used as tax shelters for the wealthy. In 2004, the “majority of people with HSAs withdrew no funds from the accounts…and HSA participants in the focus groups that the GAO convened spoke of using their HSAs for tax sheltering purposes.” Most low-income individuals “do not face high enough tax liability to benefit in a significant way from tax deductions associated with HSAs” and people “with chronic conditions, disabilities, and others with high-cost medical needs may face even greater out-of-pocket costs under HSA-qualified health plans.”

HSAS INCREASE THE NUMBER OF UNINSURED: HSAs are “not likely to be an important contributor to expanding coverage among uninsured people” because most of uninsured Americans “do not face high-enough marginal tax rates to benefit substantially from the tax deductibility of HSA contributions.” Another study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that Bush’s proposal “would induce some currently uninsured individuals to purchase insurance, but also would encourage some employers to drop health insurance or to reduce the amounts they contribute toward their employees’ health insurance costs, since employers would know their workers could get a tax deduction if they purchased coverage on their own. The number of people who would lose coverage due to actions that their employers would take would likely exceed the number of uninsured people who would gain insurance.”

AMERICANS ARE DISSATISFIED WITH HSAS: Just 33-42 percent of enrollees in consumer-driven health plans were satisfied with their health care, compared to 63 percent of those people with traditional coverage. Two-thirds of people prefer an employer-selected set of plans over an employer-funded account and choosing insurance on their own

Energy — Climate Change

What Bush will say:
President Bush will discuss climate change in his State of the Union address for the first time, but remains opposed to mandatory caps on global warming pollution. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said, “If you’re talking about enforceable carbon caps, in terms of industry wide and nationwide, we knocked that down. That’s not something we’re talking about.” 

What you need to know: Any comprehensive solution to the climate crisis must involve enforceable caps on global warming pollution.

BUSH’S VOLUNTARY APPROACH HAS FAILED TO CURB EMISSIONS: Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. have increased by 354 million metric tons since 2001. The Energy Department’s latest analysis projects America’s carbon dioxide emissions will increase by one third from 2005 to 2030. 

BUSH STILL DENIES FUNDAMENTAL CLIMATE SCIENCE: Last February, President Bush claimed there is still “a debate over whether [global warming] is man-made or naturally caused.” There is no real scientific debate over this question. Most recently, the National Academy of Sciences has unequivocally stated that natural causes cannot explain the unprecedented warmth over the last 400 years. Rather, “human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming,” the report states. 

Energy — Oil Independence

What Bush will say: “I fully recognize oil and gas … will be necessary as we transition to new ways … to power our automobiles. But we have an opportunity now to really set new standards … I’m just going to talk about a bold initiative that really encourages America to become less dependent on oil.” [1/21/07]

What you need to know: President Bush has repeatedly pledged to work towards energy independence while pursuing policies that make the problem worse.

BUSH HAS PROMISED ENERGY INDEPENDENCE BEFORE, EVEN AS DEPENDENCE INCREASED: President Bush has pledged to reduce our energy dependence in every State of the Union he has delivered since taking office. At the same time, the United States has become increasingly dependent on foreign oil, from 58 percent of oil consumed in the U.S. in 2000 to 70 percent in September 2006. U.S. dependence on OPEC nations for oil imports “has risen to its highest level in 15 years.” By focusing on expanding domestic exploration, he perpetuates our dependence on oil.

Energy — New Technology

What Bush will say:  “There’s no question, however, the new technologies I’ll be outlining will help us deal with the issue of greenhouse gases. In other words, the way to solve the problem is to promote new technology.” [1/21/07]

What you need to know: President Bush has consistently used the promise of technology of avoid taking immediate, meaningful action on climate change.

BUSH PROMISED TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES LAST YEAR, DIDN’T DELIVER:
At last year’s State of the Union, President Bush said the “best way to break this addiction [to oil] is through technology.” Yet his 2007 budget actually proposed to spend less on energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy resources in inflation-adjusted dollars than was appropriated in fiscal year 2001 — $1.176 billion in nominal dollars in both 2001 and 2007. 

EMPHASIS ON TECHNOLOGY IS STANDARD RIGHT-WING TALKING POINT: Influential conservative political consultant and wordsmith Frank Luntz has advised politicians to point to the promise of technology in order to delay implementation of mandatory cuts in global warming pollution. “We need to emphasize how voluntary innovation and experimentation are preferable to bureaucratic or international intervention and regulation,” Luntz advises

Iraq

What Bush will say: “President George W. Bush will try to rally Americans behind his new Iraq plan on Tuesday in a State of the Union speech.” White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove said Bush will challenge Congress to put up its own plan if it does not like his “new way forward.”

What you need to know: President Bush’s strategy of escalation was tried this summer in Baghdad and failed. His recycled plan isolates him from Congress, the American public, top military leaders, and key international allies. 

ESCALATION HAS BEEN 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.  This past summer, Bush announced a major effort to secure Baghdad, stating at a news conference that thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops would be moved into the city. As a result, violence intensified throughout the country, and U.S. deaths in Iraq spiked. Bush later acknowledged “our operations to secure Baghdad have encountered greater resistance. … I’m not satisfied.” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) said, “This last summer there was a troop increase that really did no good in my opinion whatsoever.”

BUSH STANDS IN ISOLATION: Sen. John Warner (R-VA), an influential conservative on military affairs, offered a resolution that opposes President Bush’s escalation plan. “Combined with near-unanimous Democratic opposition to Bush’s war policy, the Republican stands show a broad bipartisan lack of confidence in the president’s course.” Nearly seventy percent of Americans say they oppose Bush’s escalation. Top military leaders, including former Gen. Colin Powell, the current Joint Chiefs, and Gen. John Abizaid, have expressed their opposition to putting more U.S. troops on the ground. Bush’s key international ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has said he will not join the escalation. The president’s strategy goes against the recommendations of the recently-released Iraq Study Group. One Bush administration official admitted that the escalation plan is “more of a political decision than a military one.”

AN ALTERNATIVE PLAN EXISTS — STRATEGIC REDEPLOYMENT: Despite Bush’s claim that progressives don’t have their own plan, the Center for American Progress has had a responsible Iraq strategy for over a year that calls for comprehensive strategic redeployment. The strategy calls for reducing U.S. troops to 60,000 in six months and to zero in eighteen months, while redeploying troops to Afghanistan, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf to contain the threat of global terror networks. The plan also calls for engaging in diplomacy to resolve the conflict within Iraq by convening a Geneva Peace Conference, establishing a Gulf Security initiative to deal with the aftermath of U.S. redeployment from Iraq, and putting Iraq’s reconstruction back on track with targeted international funds. The American public and the Iraqi public supports phased withdrawal.

Economy

What Bush Will Say: “It is also a fact that our tax cuts have fueled robust economic growth and record revenues. … By continuing these policies, we can balance the federal budget by 2012 while funding our priorities and making the tax cuts permanent.” [1/3/07]

What You Need to Know:
Continuing Bush’s economic policies would do little to stimulate growth and would worsen the country’s fiscal health.

BUSH’S TAX CUTS THE LARGEST CONTRIBUTOR TO BUDGET DEFICITS: Tax cuts “have been the single largest contributor to the reemergence of substantial budget deficits.” The Congressional Budget Office reports that tax cuts enacted from 2001 to 2006 were responsible for 51 percent of the deterioration in the budget. “Between 2001 and 2006, the passage of the Bush tax cuts without the offsetting savings have cost $1.2 trillion in lost revenues, or more than 80 percent of the cumulative deficit during this period.” Only a third was due to increases in security spending, and about a sixth to increases in domestic spending. 

DEFICITS HAVE MUSROOMED UNDER BUSH: Bush has “never proposed a balanced budget since it went into deficit, never vetoed a spending bill when Republicans controlled Congress and offered little sustained objection to earmarks until the issue gained political traction last year.” Bush and Congress took an inherited surplus and have transformed it into a mountain of debt — the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reports that legislation enacted over the last six years increased the national debt by $2.3 trillion, including $633 billion in interest payments alone. “The budget outlook for the period 2002 to 2011 deteriorated by $8.5 trillion from 2001 to 2006 and for 2006, it decreased by $753 billion.”

ECONOMIC GROWTH HAS BEEN RELATIVELY SLOW UNDER BUSH: President’s bloated budgets have reflected skewed priorities and have not stimulated economic growth. Economic growth fell to 2 percent in the third quarter of last year, following 2.6 percent growth in the second quarter and a surprisingly strong first quarter growth of 5.6 percent. “This was the first time in more than three years that the economy registered two consecutive quarters of growth below three percent.” “For six of the seven indicators,” the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found, “the growth rate over the current period is below the average growth rate for the comparable periods of other post-World War II economic recoveries.” The economy has underperformed relative to other expansions “with respect to both overall economic growth and growth in fixed non-residential investment.”

Think Fast

This morning, former Vice President Al Gore’s global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Although President Bush “will devote about half of tonight’s 40-minute-plus” State of the Union speech to Iraq and other foreign policy matters, aides say he “will not directly engage in a debate over congressional efforts to block the troop increase.”

29 percent: Percentage of countries who believe the United States is a positive influence in the world, according to a BBC poll of 25 nations. That number is down from 36 percent last year and 40 percent two years ago. An average of 73 percent of the respondents disapprove of the war in Iraq.

Evidence of Iranian involvement in Iraq’s troubles is limited. U.S. troops have found mortars and antitank mines with Iranian markings dated 2006,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “But there has been little sign of more advanced weaponry crossing the border, and no Iranian agents have been found.”

Iraq is sliding “into the abyss of sectarianism,” U.N. envoy Ashraf Qazi said yesterday “after two car bombs in a Baghdad market killed 88 people.”

The new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be released next week will show that [h]uman-caused global warming is here — visible in the air, water and melting ice — and is destined to get much worse in the future.” “This isn’t a smoking gun; climate is a battalion of intergalactic smoking missiles,” said Andrew Weaver, a study co-author.

The jury has been picked for the Scooter Libby trial. The jury is “not completely representative” of the Washington, DC area, and includes a former Washington Post reporter who once worked for Bob Woodward, “a travel agent who only looks at newspapers for the sudoku puzzles; and a hotel sales agent who described herself a ‘master of all things pop culture, but nothing related to current events.'”

Americans flying to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean are now required to show their passport when re-entering the country, under new rules going into effect today. Only about a quarter of U.S. citizens hold valid passports and new passports cost almost $100.

“The Director of the Congressional Research Service last week issued a revised agency policy on ‘Interacting with the Media’ that warns CRS analysts about the ‘very real risks’ associated with news media contacts and imposes new restrictions on speaking to the press.” One CRS staffer said the policy will obviously have a chilling effect on staff.”

And finally: James Madison High School in Brooklyn is pretty much the only school that can boast of three sitting U.S. senators — Sens. Norm Coleman (R-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — and a current Supreme Court Justice — Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Fellow alumni remember Ginsburg as a “very popular and attractive” cheerleader, but recalled that Coleman “wasn’t the most popular guy.”