GOP officials and party strategists, who worried that last year's erratic, unfocused and at times listless White House operation signaled losses in 2006, were singing Bush's praises last week. "These are issues that clearly reflect domestic needs that Americans are uneasy about," Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas told me.
"This is not a speech where he laid forth lofty and idealistic visions, but instead presented tactical and specific reforms to address areas where (Republicans) must improve," said the chairman of the National Governors Association.
Bush's proposals, many of them revisions of earlier recommendations, are long-term in their application and results, but all are achievable in the coming years because of ongoing advances in U.S. technology.
On energy independence: increased incentives for hybrid cars using a new generation of batteries and alternative energy sources like ethanol and other bio-produced fuels; more use of nuclear power and tapping into natural gas reserves in the Gulf; construction of new gasoline refineries that would sharply increase supply over demand and thus reduce prices.
Affordable health care: expansion of tax-free health savings accounts, worker tax credits for medical costs, regulatory relief and tax breaks that will help small business provide health insurance benefits, and medical liability restrictions to curb the rapid rise in health care costs, hospital and doctors' operating overhead and insurance premiums.
Competitiveness and jobs in the global economy: Increase federal R&D funding on the physical sciences and make it permanent; new incentives to expand the number of teachers in advance placement courses; accelerate graduates in math and science.
Some of these reforms could yield results in the next few years. Others will take much longer. But these and other ideas are now on the legislative drawing board to show voters they are being tackled head on. Some will come up for votes this year.
With all the sound and fury coming out of Washington these days about Iraq, the bedrock economic concerns of ordinary Americans can easily get overlooked here.
But out in the real world it is a different matter. Manufacturing job losses in places like Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, and rising property taxes in Democratic blue states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Rhode Island are at the center of political debate.
"Yes, there is a war going on, but at this point it may not be serious enough as an issue to override bread-and-butter issues like gas prices and the cost of health insurance and jobs," said pollster Clay Richards of the Quinnipiac University poll, whose surveys are picking up increasing voter angst over these economic issues.
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