Talking to Tony

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Jan 23, 2007 6:09 PM

All right, are y'all ready to rumble??? Ahh, the SOTU. Greatest time of the year. Bloggers just got to talk to Tony Snow, who points all of you to the White House website for more on tonight's speech. I took notes, grabbed as many quotes as I could:

Introduction: War on Terror and war in Iraq has been affecting change in the region-- the Cedar Revolution, changes in behavior by Lybia, suffrage for women.

“A lot of important developments started taking place. Frankly, it may even be having an effect in Iran.”

First half of the speech: Sounded like he said it will open with an acknowledgement of the historic fact that this is the first Congress to address its speaker as "Madame."

"Democratic members who have come to the White House have told him they want to get stuff done. Well, they’ve got a chance.”

Domestic initiatives:

Get a handle on spending, President wants to extend tax cuts, get line-item veto, go after earmarks, wants to cut earmarks in half both in terms of number and amount, and wants them to be identified with Members when requested.

“For Heaven’s sake, stop doing it in the middle of the night.”

Entitlement reform: Social Security and Medicare

"Those are problems that are not going to go away."

Energy: The 20-in-10 plan, decrease use of gasoline by 20 percent in 10 years, in part by increased use fo renewable fuels. President wants to modernizing CAFE regulations, which are cumbersome and costly to meet, and whose unintended consequences are often counterproductive to a cleaner environment.

Doubling strategic petroleum reserve, supposed to be 750 mil, should be $1.5 billion, Bush says.

Health care: President's shooting for a radical restructuring of the health care system into a market that cares about individuals, not big companies. Right now, the only people who get tax deductions for health care are companies that buy it for employees (due to a law passed in the 30s, I believe, which is why your health insurance is always connected to your job when every other kind of insurance you have is portable.)

“In the new plan, that bias is gone.”

President will ask Congress to allow folks with chronic conditions and those who are higher risks for insurance companies to band together to form risk pools to manage that risk.

MKH (just my thoughts. I wasn't talking over Tony.): I'm really excited about this idea, but not sure we can possibly pull it off. It boasts all the "need" that Social Security reform did, and all the uplifting stories about a better life being possible, and better returns on your money being out there, but how do we make it fly with a Dem Congress, especially since it's Bush's idea? Just as with Social Security, it won't matter that it's a GREAT idea for working-class, middle-class, heck every-class people because wussy Republicans and spiteful Dems will shoot it down before it gets rolling.

The only hope I see is that many people are closer, more regularly exposed, to problems in the health care system than they are to problems with Social Security. Social Security returns are intangible (and will remain so without reform), but crappy service from your HMO hits home, so maybe citizens will demand a change from politicians-- wussy and spiteful alike. But, when they ask for change, will the trust the market?

Education: NCLB extended through high school, the ability to track individual students—what can you do to help them get a good education? Promise scholarships, allow those tracked kids to transfer or get intensive tutoring, vouchers like the D.C. school choice program

MKH: Like the vouchers. Another one of those great-for-low-income kids programs Dems vehemently oppose because it's bad for unions. But they do it for the kids....

Immigration: "The President will propose what he's proposed before-- comprehensive immigration plan."

Other: Touch on Initiative against AIDS, malaria inititive, expanding size of military

Erick Erickson: Why did Bush wait til now, when he's facing low numbers and a Dem Congress to suggest health care reform of this nature?

Tony pointed out that there are some Dems-- Max Baucus for one-- who are saying nice things about the plan. He thinks the White House can sell the plan based on good, old populist feeling. Nobody likes the way health care works, and this is a plan that could. People are going to listen to that, he said. As for timing, he doesn't know why the President didn't do it before, but "why not now?"

Ivy Sellers: How do you think Dems will respond?

"We’ll just have to wait and see,” Snow said. The Democrats are going to figure out that they have to do something in the next two years.

“Simply saying no to the president does not constitute a record of accomplishment.”

There are many ideas he has that can be bipartisan--NCLB was bipartisan, immigration can be bipartisan.

MKH: Yikes, bipartisanship scares me.

Ed Morrissey: Most SOTUs are half-and-half domestic and War on Terror. This looks like you've scaled back on the War on Terror stuff.

“We still have half and half. The War on Terror is the back half.”

“The President’s gonna step back and remind people that it (the war) really does have something to do with our security.”

We all agree that failure would be catastrophic. If we win, however, we get a firm rebuke to terror, and begin the process of modernizing and liberalizing the whole area. From that position, we can continue to put pressure on rogue countries and dictators.

“There's a whole combination of tools that you can use to bring pressure to people who cause world terror...We’ve got the opportunity to make a difference in the War on Terror.”

Failure would be catastrophic, we want to support the troops, Iraqis oughtta be in the lead. "We can do all that."

Pat Cleary: How far will he go on Social Security?

He won’t talk much about it because he's already made it clear that he wants individual retirement accounts.

Kim Preistap: How does he use this to bring his poll numbers up, since he is fighting an uphill battle lately in that way?

“He's not the kind of person to crawl into the fetal position and feel sorry for himself.”

He believe in putting forth better ideas that will actually work for folks and rebuilding enthusiasm among base voters, both of which will help him.

On health care, “I think a lot of people are gonna rally around this...I think it’s impossible for anybody to say, ‘no, we want you to stick with the same system you have now.'”

MKH: Speaking of building enthusiasm with the base, you brushed over immigration in the intro, but immigration and NCLB are two issues that are decidedly unexciting to the base. How much will we hear about those? And, on the other hand, basers will like the health care ideas. How do we avoid Social Security reform missteps?

As for Social Security, the Republican Congress kinda wussed out on that. (that's a paraphrase, by the way, and TOTALLY true.)

“What we’re hoping people will do, is not only give us a chance, but listen to what we're saying."

“The most aggressive plan for enforcing borders.

“We’re catching heat from people now for being too hard on enforcement and employers."

But we have to recognize that we need a sensitive way to deal with 11 million people who are here.

"Opponents say they don't want to deport everyone, so okay, then let’s figure out what we do do?"

“We get hammered for being soft, when we spent more money last year than the toughest proposal in the Republican Congress would have spent in five years.”

“Going after employers much more aggressively than anyone else.”

“We’ve certainly gotten he message about border security. We didn't really need to get the message. We already understood it, but what’s the best way to deal with the 11 million?"

“We have been derided for offering amnesty when what we're talking about is the most difficult path to citizenship in history with many requirements--stay continuously employed, keep noses clean, can’t break the law, master English language, pay back taxes.

"If you can't do any one of those things, goodbye, see ya, you're outta here."

We need to keep a conversation open with conservatives on this.

“We don’t get credit for what we’re doing and we get maligned for things we’re not doing.”

NCLB:

“This is an educationall accountability act," akin to what Bennett and other conservatives have suggested in the past, and it's not a huge part of the federal budget.

And, there are vouchers in it.

“It strikes me as those are some things that ought to make conservatives happy.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What will the President say about Iran and Syria?

To Iran-- stop providing financing and terrorist operations and stop building nukes.

To Syria-- stop providing a headquarters for terrorist activity.

"He won't go any further than his prior statements."