On Tuesday, January 23rd, President Bush delivered his sixth State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress. (See it here: “Confronting the Challenges of Our Time”)

I wanted to share my intial thoughts.

”Health Insurance”

The President wants to help the 47-million Americans who don’t have insurance by giving them a tax deduction. Most of these folks have no health insurance because they can’t afford it or they have pre-existing medical conditions. His plan does nothing for them.

The President plans to pay for tax incentives by treating the health insurance offered by employers as taxable income for the employee. In Hawaii, where employers are required to provide a portion of the cost of insurance to employees who work more than 20 hours a week, that means a tax increase for a lot of people.

”Education”

President Bush called for Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Education “Reform,” which expires later this year. Unfortunately, the Administration promised a lot of funding for No Child Left Behind to pay for specific steps to improve public education. But they never came through with the funding.

So, the program tries to raise students’ academic performance by rigorous testing alone. The problem is that testing is a diagnostic tool. It can identify learning problems. It can’t cure them; any more than constantly taking a sick child’s temperature will ever cure the flu. Testing must be followed by remedies, and remedies require funding.

”Energy”

I was pleased and surprised to hear the President talk about the need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil through conservation and alternative fuels. Last year, he told Americans we were “addicted to oil.” But he hasn’t actually done a single thing to help cure the addiction.

The Democratic-controlled Congress took a major step last week when we ended hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to big oil companies and moved to invest instead in alternative fuels and technology.

The noose of energy demand and prices is plainly evident in Hawaii, where more than 90% of our energy is imported. We have already started to invest in alternative energy systems and increase efforts to reduce consumption, but we must also hold President Bush to his word to support increasing the fuel effciency of cars and increasing the standard for renewable and alternative fuels. Our world will not run on empty words.

”Iraq”

President Bush saved his pitch for sending more American soliers and Marines to Iraq for last. He calls it a “New Way Forward in Iraq.” It isn’t new or a way forward. It has been tried and failed several times before.

I am against it, and here’s why: The U.S. has more than 130-thousand troops in Iraq, many of them caught in the middle between Shiite and Sunni militias warring for power; a blood feud that has raged for nearly 1300 years.

U.S. forces are trying to support a primarily Shiite Iraqi government that is more intent on winning the civil war than ending it. Our troops are trying to work with Iraqi police forces, many of whom are members of same militias that are stoking the violence.

Who thinks sending more U.S. troops to Iraq is a bad idea?

*1. The Baker-Hamilton Commission

*2. Foreign policy and military experts, including former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell.

*3. Military commanders, including Generals John Abizaid and George Casey

*4. Nearly every Democrat in Congress

*5. A rapidly growing number of Republicans, including Senators John Warner and Chuck Hagel

*6. 70% of the American people

Democrats have offered detailed plans to change the U.S. mission in Iraq from kicking down doors in the militia strongholds of Baghdad to training, border security and fighting the real terrorists.

In the Response to the State of the Union speech, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia called on the President to take the right kind of action, for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world. “If he does, we will join him,” said the Senator. “If he does not, we will be showing him the way.”

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