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Critics Say Much Missing From Bush State Of Union Speech January 24, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Politics, US News, White House.
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By Jennifer Loven
Of THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP)–On the day after came the grumbling.

The White House warned for days ahead of President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address that changed conditions demanded a speech stripped of the usual laundry list of proposals designed to please loyal constituencies. Still, disappointment abounded on Wednesday.

Religious conservatives heard no mention of banning same-sex marriage, preventing expanded embryonic stem-cell research or pursuing tougher abortion laws.

When the president urged the now Democratic-controlled Congress to vote on his judicial nominees, he left out his usual statement that he picks those who “strictly interpret the Constitution” – a rhetorical signal he is committed to nominees conservatives would like.

Such issues were benched in favor of a focus on a nemesis issue for the right, immigration changes that could create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Supply siders got no explicit repeat of the president’s wish for permanent extensions of all his tax cuts or a massive simplification of the unwieldy tax code. In fact, Bush’s ideas for expanding health-care coverage involve complicated adjustments to tax rules that could result in many people sending a bigger bite of their paycheck to Uncle Sam.

Deficit hawks scored Bush’s plea for lawmakers to “take on the challenge” of the looming problem that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid eventually will pose for federal deficits. But no specifics followed, and it was nothing like the president’s 2005 address, when he talked about “retirement” 12 times on the way to proposing that the program offer private savings accounts to younger workers.

Neoconservatives saw no tough talk on Iran or North Korea, with Bush emphasizing diplomacy over threats toward the nuclear programs of countries a previous State of the Union placed in the “axis of evil.” Even Bush’s use of the word “freedom” – a mainstay in foreign policy speeches of the recent past – fell to three from 17 the year before.

All of this will be grist for discussion (even a little whining, organizers said) at a summit of several hundred high-profile conservatives coming to Washington this weekend, to strategize on how to steer the Republican Party back in their direction.

“We’re disappointed that he didn’t mention cultural issues at all,” said Rich Lowry, editor of National Review magazine and a summit host. “Everyone realizes that this is a product of his diminished circumstances.”

Democrats haven’t been Bush’s prime target audience for State of the Union addresses during a presidency that has been, until now, graced with a Republican majority on Capitol Hill.

So cryptic hints out of the White House in the days leading up to the speech, signaling Bush would be bold on energy and seek ways to curry Democrats’ favor, led to raised Democratic hopes that the president might propose mandatory emissions caps or some other step environmentalists would cheer as a serious attempt to tackle global warming.

But Democrats were disheartened on the day after, too, saying Bush brought up “the serious challenge of global climate change” almost parenthetically and suggested it be solved mostly through technological advances.

The president spent a fourth of his speech defending the Iraq war and, particularly, his decision to send in 21,500 more troops. But some veterans said Bush’s argument missed the military boat by failing to highlight the importance of federal benefits for the men and women fighting the war.

“If we’re asking men and women to sacrifice and serve, then we have a responsibility to take care of them when they get home,” said Garett Reppenhagen, an Army specialist who served as a sniper in Iraq and met Wednesday with House Democrats. “If we’re not going to address that issue in the State of the Union, when and where is that appropriate to address?”

People still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina’s strike 17 months ago heard not a word on their plight – though the victims of Sudan’s genocide in the Darfur region won Bush’s pledge to “awaken the conscience of the world.”

“I guess the pains of the hurricane are yesterday’s news in Washington,” an angry Louisiana governor, Kathleen Blanco, said in a New Orleans news conference.

Aides warned reporters in advance that Bush would touch only on Iraq and a handful of other “major issues.” Conservative activist Grover Norquist said the White House also invited hundreds to private, pre-speech conference calls and briefings that were “hugely helpful” in explaining that the president’s commitments hadn’t changed even if typical rhetoric came up missing.

Still, even Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform with practically a direct line to the White House, was shocked to be told that Bush had not, in fact, explicitly called for a permanent extension of tax cuts. Told by an aide that Bush had instead more vaguely promised to balance the budget “without raising taxes,” Norquist pronounced himself satisfied.

“That’s what they thought they were saying,” he said.

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