Reports that Bush would moderate his policies to take into account the new Democratic majority in Congress turned out to be ill-founded. Stubborn as always, Bush stuck to his guns: Health insurance delivered through the private marketplace, with help for the poor in the form of tax deductions. More medical savings accounts. Tort reform to get rid of "junk lawsuits." In energy, talk about clean coal. Promises to reduce auto emissions but no standards.
What follows is a thumbnail of some of the reaction to Bush's speech along with lobby figures prepared by the Center for Responsive Politics.
"A tax deduction for someone in the 15 percent tax bracket only provides $1,125 in tax relief," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. "This means that moderate-income people will still be left with a price tag of thousands of dollars for premiums, to say nothing of the significant additional costs for deductibles and co-payments. This will leave affordable health coverage out of reach for tens of millions of Americans."
"On the other hand," Pollack continued, "the proposal provides disproportionately higher tax benefits for people who need help the least. People in the highest tax brackets will receive tax breaks that are more than twice as high as the purported relief for moderate-income workers. Instead of this ill-advised proposal, the President should expand health coverage for the nine million children who are uninsured when Congress reauthorizes the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) later this year."
"The President's tax proposal is more about shifting responsibility, rather than sharing the responsibility of our health care system," says Andrew Stern, president of SEIU. "We should be making sure that everyone has good coverage, not punishing those who already do."
The lobbies and their donations:
• Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $17,865,648, 68 percent to Republicans
• Health Professionals: $49,717,325, 63 percent to Republicans
• Accident and Health Insurance: $7,320,915, 68 percent to Republicans
Bush insists on drilling in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge, which is at best just a drop in the bucket for our energy supply. Our dependence on foreign oil continues. As Bush speaks, the Iraq government readies a new oil law that will place the once nationalized industry into the hands of the international oil companies.
Gas Guzzlers: The president talks about improved mileage rates, but won't change the law to require them. "The President assumes that fuel economy will increase but fails to order an increase when a 40 mile per gallon standard is the single biggest step we could take to curb global warming and end oil dependence," says Frances G. Beinecke, president of the Natural Defense Council. "We would be less dubious of the president's intentions if he had promised to raise the standards instead of assuming that they will rise four percent a year."
Ethanol: "A lot of it depends on the efficiency with which ethanol is produced," says Mike Casey, an environmental consultant who in the past worked for the Environmental Working Group. "It's better than imported oil, [but] it's not the long term. We can't base our entire energy policy on it. Here's what George Bush needs to do tonight: he needs to announce an aggressive initiative to move this country to the alternative sources of energy tomorrow based on technology available today."
Again, the lobbies and their donations:
• Oil & Gas: $17,576,986, 83 percent to Republicans
• Mining: $4,022,031, 83 percent to Republicans
• Electric Utilities: $14,970,532, 66 percent to Republicans
• Misc. Energy: $3,142,220, 76 percent to Republicans
• Environment: $889,748, 83 percent to Democrats
• The Budget:
Critics give Bush a plus for just mentioning bringing the budget deficit in line, but the president promises a balanced budget in 2012, but as Bob Greenstein of Center for Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out in a press call today, the real problem comes in the following decade. Another game of smoke and mirrors by the administration: the budget situation will actually get worse because Bush wants to make his tax cuts to the rich permanent. Bush says the tax cuts resulted in a robust economy, but Greenstein says the growth is unexceptional.
Again, the lobbies:
• Business Associations: $1,976,248, 84 percent to Republicans
• Labor: $62,599,397, 86 percent to Democrats
-- James Ridgeway