President reaches across the aisle on domestic issues
President Bush's numbers were up Tuesday night: his Nielsen rating numbers that is, which showed that 45.5 million people watched his State of the Union address, an increase of 9 percent over the television audience for his 2006 speech.
And while it appears his appeal for support of his policy in Iraq fell flat in Congress, he presented some domestic initiatives that will at least spark bipartisan discussion.
On the domestic front, the biggest issue facing the White House and Congress is the runaway budget deficit. The president's appeal for a balanced budget would have been more convincing if he had called for smaller deficits and the elimination of earmarks during the first six years of his presidency, when his party held control of Congress. Nonetheless, Democrats must now work with the administration on this problem.
Ohio's Republican senator, George V. Voinovich, has been consistent in his calls for fiscal discipline. As he said after the State of the Union address: "The president and my colleagues must be intellectually honest and admit that America's fiscal situation is dire. Nothing can be off the table if we want to ensure our long-term prosperity and increase our competitiveness in the global marketplace."
Congress and the administration have been mortgaging the nation's future, allowing huge budget deficits that have ballooned the national debt to nearly 9 trillion and huge trade deficits that have allowed foreign trading partners to buy much of the new debt.
Congress and the administration must work together to reduce both deficits, or our children and grandchildren will be paying an enormous price.
The president also opened a dialogue on health care reform, although politically his suggestion to reduce health care costs by discouraging employer-paid health insurance through tax policy is a nonstarter in a Democratic Congress. It may have been in a Republican Congress, as well.
Health care costs looks like one of those social and economic problems that is best addressed in the states, where governors and state legislatures are less indebted to the health care lobbies than the White House and Congress. In recent years, however, Congress has attempted to make it more difficult for states to come up with their own solutions, especially regarding attempts to control pharmaceutical costs. Congress should get out of the way of states that want to be aggressive in reining in medical costs and expanding health coverage.
Congress and the president should be able to find ways of attacking the nation's dependence on foreign oil -- which in the long run would allow the United States to extricate itself from foreign wars and trim the balance-of-trade deficit.
Increasing the use of alternative fuels such as ethanol from agricultural sources and gas from emerging clean-coal technologies, coupled with a greater commitment from Detroit to improve automobile mileage, provide a starting point.
The president's speech offered little new regarding education that is likely to attract support from Democrats in Congress. They are hardly likely to support his suggestion that the federal government eliminate various state controls on the growth of charter schools or that a national voucher program be expanded.
This was effectively the president's last opportunity to reach across the aisle with a State of the Union address. He is already entering the lame-duck phase of his presidency, and by next January, both parties will be focused on their possible presidential candidates and on their prospects for retaining or retaking control of the House and Senate.
While the great national challenge facing the president and Congress is how the war in Iraq can be brought to an acceptable conclusion, the broad expanse of domestic challenges facing the nation cannot be ignored.
The president has indicated his willingness to work with Congress. Congressional leaders have committed themselves to breaking away from the do-nothing tag of the last two years and putting in full work weeks. It's time for both branches of government to produce results.