Of course, we also must get spending under control. Washington spent almost $22,000 per household last year, the highest level since World War II. That's one-third higher than when Bush took office. This year, he should vow to reverse that trend.
Finally, his most difficult task: Bush must launch a process that will force all parties -- regardless of their ideological beliefs -- to confront the coming entitlement crisis.
Every year, the Social Security and Medicare trustees issue reports that show the programs are ticking time bombs. Unless they're fixed, these massive entitlements will swallow an ever-greater share of government spending in decades to come. Left unchecked, they will force Washington to raise taxes to European levels and crowd out spending on all other programs, from defense and diplomacy to education and homeland security, by 2045.
So far, the left's policy on entitlement reform has been to have no policy. That's unacceptable. Last year, Bush proposed saving Social Security through the creation of personal savings accounts, a sensible reform that would allow all workers to save for their own retirement. If liberals won't sign on to that, they must at least come up with some proposals.
Even if we can't immediately agree on the solutions, we need to agree there are problems and promise to work together to solve them.
In the end, after the television lights are shut off, Bush's State of the Union address should be judged on whether it highlights the truly critical challenges facing the nation and starts a substantive debate on those issues. If he hammers away at these three simple points, this year's address will live up to the highest expectations.
First Appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times