When President George W. Bush gave his State of the Union address on Jan. 23, he was entering a new world, one defined by the Democrats’ gain of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the November midterm election. Everything from global warming (though those words were not heard) to his No Child Left Behind Act was discussed in his speech – but was the speech and his goals enough to rectify what kept Republicans from maintaining the majority? The Daily Sundial talked with two political science professors at CSUN to analyze Bush’s goals for the United States in 2007.
Christopher Shortell, an assistant professor in the political science department, said he found some of the financial aspects of the speech unrealistic, and said that the “health plan is basically dead on arrival.
“The only way to continue financially supporting the war would be to take from Medicare and social security or cut defense spending or raise taxes,” he said. “No other part of the federal budget is significant enough to make a difference.”
While he said that it is “difficult to believe that Congress would approve” some of the health care plans Bush advocated, he said he believes “it’s a starting point and some sort of health care expansion would be helpful.”
In his speech, Bush proposed, “a standard tax deduction for health insurance that will be like the standard tax deduction for dependents.”
Tom Hogen-Esch, an assistant professor of political science, said Bush’s focus on domestic issues in the speech did not fit in with a presidential pattern.
“Usually at this point in (the) presidency, he usually goes to foreign policy because domestic policy has been frustrated by Congress,” Hogen-Esch said. “Clinton in the impeachment process was trying to broker deals with Ireland, Haiti and the Middle East. But this is the opposite with Bush: He has staked his presidency on foreign policy in Iraq, which I think by all accounts is a disaster, so he’s coming back to the domestic front in order to salvage his presidency.”
Hogen-Esch predicted that immigration will be a major domestic issue during the last two years of the Bush administration. The president is seen as having credibility on the issue, and Hogen-Esch said that with a Democrat majority in congress, immigration legislation could proceed.
Bush said he would double the size of Border Patrol and also stated, “We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country without animosity and without amnesty.”
“Immigration was the big issue (in) 2006 and it didn’t go forward with Republicans in Congress,” Hogen-Esch said. “The Democrats, I think, are far more open to some version of immigration. The right wing is obviously hostile to immigration reform, whereas Democrats are always open to new members in their party.”
Hogen-Esch said the Democrats could help Bush in his health care plans as well.
In the speech, Bush was optimistic about what he called “commitments of conscience.”
“With enough good sense and good will, you and I can fix Medicare and Medicaid and save Social Security,” Bush stated.
“He’ll face more opposition from his own part (in regard to health care), but that may be another area like immigration where Bush can work with Democrats,” Hogen-Esch said.
Bush said at the beginning of his speech that we need to balance the budget and that we can do it “without raising taxes.” He also has plans to eliminate the federal deficit within the next five years.
Hogen-Esch does not see much success in Bush’s future plans with the budget, though.
“(The budget is) another issue the president lacks credibility on,” he said. “The budget deficit is at historic proportions, far worse than what we faced in the 80s. (Pledging) to balance the budget and reduce the national deficit without raising taxes is simply wishful thinking.”
Shortell saw Bush’s thoughts on the future of the No Child Left Behind Act indicated a need for the administration to go back to ideas that have worked for the president.
“One of the things presidents try to do are highlight successes and he sees No Child Left Behind as a success,” he said. “He’s using it as a reminder of what he had done. That’s really all that comment was about. Will it pop up in Congress? I haven’t seen it become an issue.”
Both professors agreed Bush recalled the No Child Left Behind Act in order to highlight his good decisions.
“I think the jury is still out and whether or not it’s really making substantive improvements,” Hogan-Esch said. “It’s probably a little too early to boast about any success with that program.”
The new Congress could start re-asserting itself on the war in Iraq immediately, he said.
“Troops have already been sent over and mobilized and Congress has declared (that this is) not a good idea,” he said. “There are binding and non-binding resolutions in Congress right now, (and) they very well could block funding for new troops in Iraq and thereby express disagreement of his decision. It is moving.”
Bush stated plans to deploy an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq and said there is nothing more important than for America to succeed in the Middle East.
Hogen-Esch said that Congress will likely show opposition to Bush’s idea of a troops surge, but that a lot of opposition could come from average American citizens.
“It’s sort of settled that the president has the ability to deploy troops whenever and in whatever number he wants,” he said. “Congress has the power of the purse and so what you’re seeing is perhaps yet another showdown between the Congress and the presidency. The real opposition from this war is not coming so much from Congress but from below. ? That’s the kind of political activity that I think might affect this ‘troop surge.'”
Bush also brought environmental concerns – a major issue especially in the wake of the release of the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” last summer – to the forefront by proposing new ways to deal with climate control, though Shortell said that area could be expanded on by the administration.
“His discussion of issues on climate change were pretty modest,” he said. “There’s a fair amount of distrust on the part of the Congress because the proposals are fairly minimal on the evidence of climate change.”
While to a certain extent Bush recognized the concerns of the new majority, the ideas in the speech seemed to be business as usual, the professors said.
“I just don’t think he did anything to help himself,” Shortell said. “(There) wasn’t much there that suggested he would change in the way he’s been governing.”