SOTU: Spending of the Union

After watching President Bush’s State of the Union address last night, I was asked what I thought if it. My response was and is that it was sort of . . . well, blah. The only thing that really stood out to me was the fact that nothing really stood out. There was no “axis of evil” moment, nothing that grabbed my attention and made me think “Great speech, Mr. President.”

Instead, the speech, which did have some good lines (“The once all-powerful ruler of Iraq was found in a hole, and now sits in a prison cell;” and “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people;” and “A government-run health care system is the wrong prescription” — just to quote a few), further revealed that any conservative’s hopes for spending cuts next year are out the window. There was no threat to veto out-of-control spending bills, including the Omnibus Appropriations Bill currently being debated in the Senate. The limit on discretionary spending increases for Bush’s coming budget is only 4 percent — a number which Congress surely will attempt to increase.

Most revealing, though, was the expansion of government spending and increase in the size of government called for by this Republican president. Certainly some of the stated goals for some of the spending growth are laudable, but they should not be allowed as excuses to inflate spending, especially when spending cuts are not equally demanded.

Here are several of the calls for increased government influence and expenditures mentioned last night, none of which will likely be free:

  • I will send you a proposal to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy, and to focus its new work on the development of free elections, free markets, free press, and free labor unions in the Middle East.
  • Much of our job growth will be found in high-skilled fields like health care and biotechnology. So we must respond by helping more Americans gain the skills to find good jobs in our new economy.
  • By passing the No Child Left Behind Act, you have made the expectation of literacy the law of our country. We are providing more funding for our schools, a 36 percent increase since 2001.
  • At the same time, we must ensure that older students and adults can gain the skills they need to find work now. Many of the fastest-growing occupations require strong math and science preparation, and training beyond the high school level. So tonight I propose a series of measures called Jobs for the 21st Century. This program will provide extra help to middle- and high school students who fall behind in reading and math, expand Advanced Placement programs in low-income schools, and invite math and science professionals from the private sector to teach part-time in our high schools.
  • I propose larger Pell Grants for students who prepare for college with demanding courses in high school.
  • I propose increasing our support for America’s fine community colleges, so they can train workers for the industries that are creating the most new jobs.
  • Consumers and businesses need reliable supplies of energy to make our economy run, so I urge you to pass legislation to modernize our electricity system, promote conservation, and make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy.
  • Our nation’s health care system, like our economy, is also in a time of change. Amazing medical technologies are improving and saving lives. This dramatic progress has brought its own challenge, in the rising costs of medical care and health insurance. Members of Congress, we must work together to help control those costs and extend the benefits of modern medicine throughout our country.
  • In my budget, I have proposed new funding to continue our aggressive, community-based strategy to reduce demand for illegal drugs.
  • Drug testing in our schools has proven to be an effective part of this effort. So tonight I propose an additional 23 million dollars for schools that want to use drug testing as a tool to save children’s lives.
  • In my budget, I propose a grassroots campaign to help inform families about these medical risks. We will double federal funding for abstinence programs. . .
  • This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society. We know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison. So tonight, I propose a four-year, $300 million Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups.

President Bush was 100 percent correct when he said last night that “the American people are using their money far better than government would have” and that Congress was “right to return it.” It’s too bad the rest of his address didn’t reflect that truth.

It could have been a really great speech.