Missing opportunities ...

January 24, 2007

By now the pattern is familiar. President Bush comes before Congress all earnest and full of sweet talk about working together. But by morning, his promises often prove empty or disappear.

With Mr. Bush's presidency at a political and popular ebb - and the opposition party running Congress for the first time during his tenure - a more truly conciliatory approach would seem obligatory for a leader in search of a positive legacy.

Yet the president - despite some gracious words for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her late father, Baltimore Mayor and Rep. Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. - made clear last night he doesn't see it that way.

He missed two prime opportunities for shared progress on domestic issues with his showcased initiatives on health care and energy. His proposals not only disappointed Democrats but also would work against the goals of greater access to medical insurance and weaning the nation from foreign oil.

The president is proposing for the first time to tax health benefits for those who get coverage through employers so he can provide tax deductions for the uninsured to buy policies on their own. Thus, with a single blow, he would almost certainly destroy the fragile structure through which most Americans get health insurance in hopes of luring the working poor into the private market, where they would have no advantage of group pricing and no coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Equally discouraging was his energy proposal to reduce gasoline consumption by mandating the rapidly increased use of ethanol, most of which comes from corn and poses its own threat to the environment by gobbling up land and spewing fertilizer into waterways. Yet Mr. Bush won't endorse a mandated increase in vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and spurned industrial leaders urging national curbs on carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

On education, Mr. Bush merely treaded about the margins of the No Child Left Behind law, his greatest bipartisan achievement to date, with no comment on his failure so far to provide adequate financing.

And on immigration, probably the issue on which Mr. Bush has the best chance to find common cause with the Democrats, he repeated his laudable call for broad legislation that both secures the borders and takes the pressure off them through a guest worker program. But he offered no hint on how he will overcome opposition in his own party.

Progress looks all uphill from here.

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