Monday, 15 July 2024

State of the Union: Thompson responds to Bush's priorities


It's a speech that, traditionally, is heavy on ceremony, giving the chief executive the chance to lay out his strategies for the coming year.

Bush indeed took the chance to lay out economic priorities, including balancing the federal budget – which, he said, “we can do without raising taxes,” – reducing earmarks slipped into budgets and fixing entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

He called on Congress to reauthorize his “No Child Left Behind” legislation, which is intended to improve education standards.

Bush also said that immigration reform – an issue that has become increasingly important in Lake County, especially when it considering the shortage of agricultural labor – is needed to achieve “laws that are fair and borders that are secure.

A significant portion of the address was devoted to developments in Iraq.

So, how was Bush's speech received by those across the aisle?

Speaking with Lake County News Tuesday evening, Congressman Mike Thompson said the president's speech “touched on many issues that are critically important to our district and country.”

The American public, said Thompson, is very concerned about issues including affordable health care options, better immigration policies, an improved education system, sound fiscal policy and an effort to achieve energy independence.

“I don't believe I agree with all the ways that he wants to reform these things but I'm pleased that he inserted those in the State of the Union and made those priority issues,” he said.

Thompson added that he's looking forward to the opportunity to work with the the president on these issues, but he has concerns because he's seen this same issues addressed before with solution that “have rarely materialized.”

A member of the House Ways and Means Committee and a recent appointee to the House Intelligence Committee, Thompson listened to the speech Tuesday night from the “presidential row,” which included presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“The big hole in his speech, I thought, was the Iraq part,” said Thompson, a Vietnam vet who has been outspoken in his opposition to the president's Iraq policies.

“He came to Congress today to sell his Iraq policy to the American people and the Congress of the United States and I don't think he did that,” said Thompson.

Thompson said the speech did little to ease his concerns about the situation in Iraq, whether Bush is listening to his generals on the ground or if the diplomatic efforts in the area are what they should be.

Thompson said Bush was “tugging on heart strings,” and repeatedly reinserted 9/11 into the war issue.

Here is how Thompson weighed in on the following areas of the speech that are most relevant to Lake County's residents.

– Immigration reform

Is it possible that Congress and the president can agree on such a vast and complicated issue? Thompson replied, “Well, we'll see. It will require the president to put the full weight of his office behind it,” something he hasn't been willing to do in the past.

Thompson is co-sponsor of the AgJOBS bill, introduced in Washington, D.C. Jan. 10, which addresses immigration reform and establishing legal status for workers from other countries. At the bill's introduction, he stood alongside Toni Scully, a pillar of the Lake County pear growing community, who traveled to Washington to share the county's struggles with finding enough agricultural labor.

– Social Security

When Bush tried to privatize Social Security two years ago, Thompson was a fierce opponent, even leading a town hall meeting in Lakeport on the issue.

Is he concerned that Bush might make another run at Social Security privatization?

Absolutely, said Thompson, who said Bush alluded to such a move in the speech, despite the fact that his previous effort was “solidly rejected.”

– No Child Left Behind

Thompson agrees that the bill should be reauthorized, but he added that its “glaring problems” need to be fixed, including giving the effort the necessary funding levels to succeed.

– Cutting the deficit

“I think that the deficit reduction/fiscal responsibility issue is something he's raised in the past State of the Unions,” said Thompson.

Even so, Thompson said Bush has borrowed more than money than all the other presidents in the country's history, combined.

Thompson also said Bush's claims that they've reduced the deficit are “disingenuous,” that it was accomplished by inflating the deficit number and then claiming success when that number was lower than projected.

– Success in Iraq

Bush called Iraq “the defining struggle of our time,” and emphasized the importance of succeeding in that struggle.

“I don't know what success in Iraq means,” said Thompson, who has said he would like to see U.S. troops brought home as soon as possible.

“Success in Iraq for me is for the Iraqi government government to assume their security responsibility and move past their civil war and rebuild their country,” he said. “This is a political issue they have to fix.”

Thompson pointed out that, last year, Bush said troop levels in Iraq would be reduced, but now he is calling for an escalation of US forces in that country.

“His policy for Iraq is severely flawed and he is ignoring the will of the Iraqi government, our military commanders on the ground, the Congress and the American people,” Thompson said.

The effect on the middle class

Just what can the middle class expect from the plans Bush laid out Tuesday night?

Not much, said Thompson.

“Just about everything that he's done in his presidency has been harmful to the middle class,” Thompson said.

He pointed to the U.S. National Debt Clock, which shows that our nation debt total nearly $9 trillion, with every citizen's portion of that about $29,000, growing by the second.

– Looking ahead

Thompson said he's hopeful that this year will be different.

It's certainly different in one way: For the first time in U.S. history, a president in his State of the Union speech addressed the speaker as “Madam,” rather than “Mister.”

It's also different, as Thompson pointed out, because of the new Democratic majority in Congress.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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