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January 29, 2008
Bush plays "small ball" in SOTU
In the president's final State of the Union address, Bush eschewed the large, grandiose plans to remake social security and other entitlements in favor of smaller, more achievable goals that have mostly bi-partisan support:
For a president who has always favored boldness, it amounts to a dramatic shift. Just a year ago, Bush in the same chamber defied the new Democratic majority with his decision to send more troops to Iraq and challenged lawmakers to overhaul the immigration system. In this respect, he used the approach favored by his predecessor Bill Clinton whose addresses to Congress contained a virtual laundry list of small legislative goals - most of which never saw the light of day.
The past year demonstrated that Congress could not force him to change course in Iraq, but neither could he bend it to his will in the domestic arena. So last night, Bush focused on extending or cementing past initiatives, such as pumping $30 billion more into his anti-AIDS projects in Africa, reauthorizing his No Child Left Behind education program, extending $2 billion in aid to other countries developing clean-energy technology and codifying his policies that steer more federal funds to religious charities.
And he reintroduced ideas that have gone nowhere in the past, such as banning cloning, providing health-care tax breaks and making permanent his first-term tax cuts. His requests were fairly small-bore. He asked for $300 million for scholarships for inner-city students to attend private schools, proposed allowing troops to transfer unused education benefits to relatives, and said he will meet with Canadian and Mexican leaders in New Orleans. On Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he challenged Congress, which has rejected his proposals, to come up with its own ideas.
With voters already going to the polls to choose his successor, Bush discovered the joys of "small is beautiful" while sensing the mood of his own party - a belief that there simply isn't the money for large government programs or the will to reform entitlements.