By: E&P Staff
Earlier today in this space we brought you a press briefing at the White House today, as Tony Snow got some help from the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley; Joel Kaplan, deputy chief of staff for policy, and communications chief Don Bartlett, they previewed Tuesday night’s State of the Union address by the president.
Now you know how that turned out.
So here is a video version of how it might have gone, click here.
BARTLETT: In essence, the message to the American people is, want to be a gracious President who welcomes and congratulates a Democratic Congress, but also to speak directly to the American people and say, hey, there are big things we can do together. There are big issues in which the American people expect, regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on, is to cross that aisle and work together.
HADLEY: The President had an opportunity to lay out his new approach, new strategy for Iraq here two weeks ago Wednesday. As a consequence, he’s not going to replow that ground in the speech tonight. What he’s going to do is step back, make the point that the struggle in Iraq is part of a broader struggle between forces of democracy and freedom and the forces of extremism that support terrorism and tyranny….
I don’t think he’ll break any new ground on Iran. He’ll talk about the challenge that Iran poses in the region.
KAPLAN: On the domestic side tonight, the President is going to lay out a positive, comprehensive vision for addressing real problems, real challenges facing Americans today, and he’s going to provide real solutions.
First of all, the President, because he wants to focus on a handful of key issues tonight, he’ll note that he’s going to address the state of our economy in remarks next week. He’ll focus on three economic reforms that he does want to discuss very briefly related to the budget. The first is, he will reiterate that because of the strong economic growth and the revenues that that’s generated, that we now have an opportunity to balance the budget within five years, and to do so without raising taxes on the American people, but rather to restrain the spending appetite of their government.
He’ll also touch briefly on the challenge of earmarks and the need to make sure that the Congress reforms the process that allows special interest provisions to be inserted into bills, and to call on Congress to expose all earmarks to the light of day and to a vote of Congress, and to at least cut them in half by the end of this session.
Finally, on the budget, he’ll talk about how our improved budget position gives us an opportunity to address the real, long-term fiscal challenge that we face which is in our entitlement programs, Medicare, Medicaid, and in particular, the opportunity to save Social Security.
The President will then turn to the four initiatives that he wants to discuss in some detail. The first is health care. You’ve heard, I think, a fair amount about that in the last couple of days, so I’ll try to keep it brief on that. The President will lay out his plan for ensuring available and affordable access to health insurance for more Americans.
There are two related proposals to do that. The first is to reform the incentives in the tax code that work against a fair and efficient health system, in particular two things: The President will propose a reform that — the current tax code discriminates against those who purchase their health insurance on their own, as in they don’t get it through their employer. He wants to eliminate that bias in the tax code. He also wants to eliminate the bias in the tax code in favor of the most expansive and expensive health insurance policies.
The way he’ll do that is by proposing a standard deduction for health insurance for anybody who has health insurance, whether they buy it from their employer — or rather whether their employer provides it, or whether they buy it on their own, and regardless of how much it costs.The deduction is $15,000 for a family, $7,500 for individuals.
This helps three groups of people. Today, if you get your insurance through your employer, the President’s proposal for 100 million people, 80 percent of the people in that category, the President’s proposal will result in a substantial tax benefit.If you’re in the category of people who currently provide health insurance on their own, by eliminating the discrimination in the code that group of people will get a substantial tax benefit. A family of four making $60,000 will get a $4,500 tax benefit.And the proposal will help millions of uninsured for the first time get a tax benefit that will put health insurance within reach.
Now, I say within reach because, while it’s a substantial benefit, there are a number of low-income and chronically ill people for whom it will be a big help, on average about $3,300 but still not quite enough. And the President has a second proposal called Affordable Choices. And under that proposal, the Secretary of HHS will work with states that are willing to provide access to private affordable health insurance in their state — if they’re willing to do that, the Secretary of HHS will provide assistance in helping the state make sure that their low-income and uninsured can actually get access to that private affordable health insurance. So that’s the health insurance proposal that the President will lay out tonight.
He’ll also lay out a bold and ambitious proposal on energy. As the President described in last year’s State of the Union, we have an addiction to oil, and he’ll talk tonight about how that creates a national security risk for our country because it leaves us vulnerable to hostile regimes and to terrorists.
The President will announce a bold new initiative to reduce our gasoline usage by 20 percent in 10 years, by 2017. We’re calling it 20 in 10.And the way he’ll do this is with two proposals. To address our dependence on oil, you have to address the supply side and you have to address the demand side. On the supply side, the President will propose a new alternative fuel standard of 35 billion gallons — mandatory fuel standard of 35 billion gallons by 2017. That’s nearly five times the current renewable fuel standard of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. So it’s a very ambitious goal, but it’s one we think is achievable.
On the demand side, the President will propose that Congress authorize a reformed and modernized CAFE, fuel economy system for passenger cars, that will allow the Secretary of Transportation to increase fuel economy in the same way we’ve done for light trucks, and by doing so, save up to 8.5 billion gallons of fuel. Together, the 35 billion gallons from the alternative fuel standard represents 15 percent of our gasoline usage in 2017;the 8.5 billion gallons that we’re assuming from the increased fuel economy standards represents 5 percent of the gasoline usage in 2017.Together that will allow us to save 20 percent of our gasoline usage in 2017.
Obviously, that’s a very ambitious, but achievable goal. It will — while it will help address our dependency on foreign oil, it won’t eliminate it. And so the President will also call on Congress to step up our production of domestic oil and resources in environmentally sensitive ways, and he will call on Congress — in order to protect from severe disruptions of our oil supply in the future, he’ll call on Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to 1.5 billion gallons.
The President will also talk about education and immigration in the speech. On education, the President will call on Congress to strengthen and reauthorize the very successful No Child Left Behind Act, which was a signature, bipartisan achievement of the President’s first term. The No Child Left Behind Act is working. It’s closing the achievement gap. We’ve raised standards for students across the country and improved accountability. The President will insist that Congress, in reauthorizing it, strengthen the law, but also make sure that Congress does not water down the law or backslide and call it reform.
Finally, on immigration, the President will call tonight for Congress to engage in a serious and conclusive debate on immigration, so that they can pass and he can sign into law comprehensive immigration reform. He’ll again highlight that comprehensive immigration reform requires us to secure our borders by doubling the number of Border Patrol and increasing our investments in infrastructure and technology. It requires improving our work site and interior enforcement. But even those measures alone will not secure the border unless we have a temporary worker program which will take pressure off of the border.
In addition to those three components, the President will talk about the need to address in a rational and humane way the millions of undocumented workers who are currently here, and he’ll call on Congress to do that without animosity and without amnesty. Finally, any comprehensive immigration reform will include efforts at assimilation, to make sure that new immigrants to this country share in the values that have made the country great.