WASHINGTON – President Bush set energy self-sufficiency goals Tuesday night that would still leave the country vulnerable to unstable oil sources. He also declared he is helping more people get health care, despite a rising number of uninsured.
Whether promoting a plan to "save Social Security" or describing Iraqi security forces as "increasingly capable of defeating the enemy," Bush skipped over some complex realities in his State of the Union speech.
By identifying only Mideast oil imports for reductions, Bush was ignoring some of the largest sources of U.S. petroleum, among them Canada, Mexico, Nigeria and Venezuela. The U.S. considers Venezuela a source of political instability in the region; relations with Mexico have been strained over immigration; and violence has curbed nearly 10 percent of Nigeria's oil output.
Imports of oil and refined product from the Persian Gulf make up less than a fifth of all imports, according to the government.
Bush has spoken of reducing reliance on foreign oil in every State of the Union speech, if not as explicitly as in this one, and presidents back to Richard Nixon outlined similar goals, to little or no effect.
Nixon announced Project Independence in 1973, setting a goal of energy self-sufficiency in seven years. Then, the U.S. imported 35 percent of its oil; now it's close to 60 percent. This, despite substantive steps taken by Nixon and Jimmy Carter to spur both supply and conservation, including construction of the Alaskan oil pipeline and reduction in the highway speed limit to 55 mph for many years.
Noting that the government must help provide health care for the poor and elderly, Bush asserted, "We are meeting that responsibility."
It is true that a new prescription drug benefit took effect this year, a new entitlement for up to 42 million disabled and older people. But implementation has been rocky: Mark McClellan, the administration's top Medicare official, recently acknowledged that tens of thousands of recipients probably didn't get medicine due to confusion and computer glitches, prompting some lawmakers to seek an extension of the May 15 signup deadline to work out the snafus.
An incomplete picture also emerges on health care for the poor.
The number of uninsured has increased nearly 5 million since Bush took office in 2001, to 45.5 million in 2004, two-thirds of the total from low-income families, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
And while total federal spending on the health care "safety net" for the uninsured edged up from 2001 to 2004 — adjusted for inflation, slightly more than 1 percent — spending actually decreased from $546 to $498 per uninsured person due to the jump in uninsured, the Kaiser group said.
Bush actually is expected to propose curbing the growth of benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid in his 2007 budget request next week.
Bush said Congress did not act last year on his "proposal to save Social Security." In fact, his plan does not take care of Social Security's future solvency; instead, he wants to let younger workers divert some of their Social Security payroll taxes into private investment accounts to take advantage of the possibilities for a better return.
Bush's upbeat account of progress in Iraq, coupled with an acknowledgment that "our enemy is brutal," left unstated a variety of setbacks in turning control over to Iraqi forces, including Iraqi Army desertions in the volatile west.
Addressing Hurricane Katrina aid, Bush said a hopeful society "comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency" and the government is meeting New Orleans' "immediate needs."
Federal money is indeed being used to build stronger levees and provide business loans and housing assistance. But the government has declined to rebuild levees strong enough to sustain a Category 5 hurricane, and it recently rejected as unnecessary a $30 billion redevelopment plan for Louisiana that state officials considered the cornerstone of their hopes for rebuilding.
Bush urged Americans to back his secretive domestic spy program, saying he was using his "authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute" and noting that "appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed."
Bush did not address the counterarguments that he failed to heed a separate 1978 law that specifically calls for court approval to conduct the surveillance. Some lawmakers have also questioned why Bush did not brief more than eight members of Congress about the program, which has been in effect since 2001.
On the theme of improving math and science education, Bush boasted, "We have made a good start in the early grades with the No Child Left Behind Act, which is raising standards and lifting test scores across our country."
In 2005, fourth-graders and eighth-graders posted their highest-ever math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and black and Hispanic children narrowed their achievement gap with whites in both math and reading. But the fourth-grade reading performance was essentially flat, and in eighth grade, reading scores dropped.
The president said that "every year of my presidency, we have reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending." That doesn't tell the full story because the category he cited omits big-ticket spending items like Iraq, natural disasters such as Katrina and homeland security.
He spoke of saving taxpayers $14 billion next year if his budget proposals are adopted, not mentioning some of those savings would come from health care programs such as Medicaid.