Local Commentary

Jim Moran

At the time of this writing, the President is preparing to deliver his seventh State of the Union address. Due to his failure in Iraq, President Bush is expected to expand his focus from the foreign affairs and terrorism issues that have dominated past speeches, and instead highlight some domestic priorities.

Among these domestic initiatives is a truly confusing and poorly conceived health care proposal that is just plain bad public policy. Highlights of the measure include making money spent on employer-sponsored health insurance taxable — thus providing employers an incentive to trim their health benefits — and providing a tax benefit for Americans who don’t get health insurance through their employer (this demographic usually pays no taxes anyway because they make so little income). This proposal is dead on arrival in the House. If the President is serious about reforming our nation’s broken health care system and helping insure the 47 million Americans without insurance, he needs to rethink this strategy.

The second major domestic initiative thought to be touted by the President is an effort to reduce the U.S. consumption of gasoline by 20 percent over the next ten years. A worthwhile proposal and one that Democrats have been advocating for years through an increase in CAFE standards. The President is behind the curve on this. If it were not for Al Gore’s ongoing effort to raise public awareness to the threat of global warming it would likely not be a part of this speech. But that said this is an area Democrats in the House and Senate can work with the President. We will be watching the President closely on this one, making sure his words are met with deeds. Speaker Pelosi recently announced a special committee to prepare legislation to tackle global warming. If the President is serious about sticking to his promise, there may be hope for good legislation. 

For the second time in a row, a Virginian will be delivering the Democratic rebuttal to President Bush. Last year, Governor Kaine carried the banner for our party, delivering a thoughtful, measured speech that was well received by many. This year, our newly-elected Senator Jim Webb has been tapped to deliver the Democratic rebuttal. Known for his ardent opposition to the Iraq war — including his prescient warning not to invade Iraq without an exit strategy in 2002 — Senator Webb is a warrior statesman ready to go head to head with the President on both domestic and international issues. I expect his speech to be a bit less fiery than past critiques of the war, but it will likely express the view widely held by the American public that the war is headed in the wrong direction and that its time to change course.

Tuesday’s speech is the kick-off for what is surely to be a lively session of Congress. With Democrats now controlling Congress, a lame duck President Bush with approval ratings among the lowest ever and a red-hot ’08 Presidential race just beginning to take shape, we should be in for some real fireworks. And ones that will hopefully produce legislative progress on the major issues of the day.