WASHINGTON – President Bush on Saturday previewed his message for the nation's governors, promoting his proposals to spend more on scientific research, math education and clean-energy technologies.
"To improve health care, keep America competitive, achieve greater energy independence and protect our nation, we must put aside politics and focus on what is best for the future of our country," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "America's governors are good allies in this effort, and I look forward to working with them in the year ahead."
The state leaders are gathering in Washington this weekend for four days of talks during the National Governors Association meeting. Bush, a former governor of Texas, is hosting a dinner for them Sunday night and bringing them in for meetings Monday.
But the governors always arrive at the White House with their own agendas, not the least their political fortunes, and they color how they hear the president's message. This fall, three dozen states have governor's races, and Democrats are seen as having a good chance of gaining ground.
Bush knows health care is a top concern for Americans — and thus for the governors coming to see him. He said in the broadcast that plotting how to improve health care will be a major agenda item and that "we have a good example in the Medicare system that provides health care coverage for our seniors."
He highlighted a report that about 25 million Medicare recipients now have prescription drug coverage through the program's new prescription drug plan.
He did not mention that the 5.4 million of those who have voluntarily enrolled — the rest were enrolled automatically because they were covered previously by an employer, Medicaid or other government programs — represent only one-quarter of those eligible.
Critics have said the large number of elderly and disabled who have not enrolled is indicative of the program's problems, which have included glitches in automatic enrollment and accidentally higher co-payments.
The president also said he plans to press his new initiative to boost U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace through innovation. He has proposed doubling government funding for basic research in the physical sciences, training thousands of new science and math teachers and extending a popular tax credit businesses can receive for investing in research and development. The total price tag over 10 years would be $136 billion.
Some Democrats have expressed concern that Bush is increasing federal math and science education spending while cutting overall discretionary spending on education by trimming money in areas such as the arts, parent-resource centers and drug-free schools.
Another item on Bush's agenda with the governors is the contribution of state National Guard units to the war in Iraq.
"The states are playing a vital role in the war effort through the contributions of their National Guard units," Bush said. "During the past two years, many governors have traveled to Iraq or Afghanistan to visit with the men and women from their states who are serving in freedom's cause. These governors have seen firsthand the courage of our troops and their dedication to the mission."
Still, there have been concerns about the stress the war has placed on the Guard.