Bush Reiterates Support for Tort Reform, Tax Credits in State of the Union Address
President Bush on Wednesday in his State of the Union address "laid out an exceptionally ambitious agenda" that calls for efforts to "rein in what he views as litigious legal system," maintain tight ethical standards in embryonic stem cell research and continue to encourage an "ownership society" through health savings accounts and tax credits to help people purchase health coverage, the Washington Post reports (Fletcher/Baker, Washington Post, 2/3).
According to the Los Angeles Times, Bush's agenda was "so wide-ranging that many of his major priorities," including health-related issues, "rated only two sentences" and "[d]ozens of lesser goals were barely mentioned" (McManus/Chen, Los Angeles Times, 2/3). According to the New York Times, Bush "quickly recapitulated" his proposals to address the growing number of uninsured and slow the "rapid growth of health costs."
Bush said, "I ask Congress to move forward on a comprehensive health care agenda, with tax credits to help low-income people buy insurance, a community health center in every poor county, improved information technology to prevent medical errors and needless costs, association health plans for small businesses and their employees, expanded health savings accounts and medical liability reform" (Pear, New York Times, 2/3).
Bush also highlighted his proposals to provide states with more flexibility in their Medicaid programs and encourage small businesses to join together in purchasing health insurance, CQ Today reports (Schuler, CQ Today, 2/2). The Chicago Tribune notes that Bush "had little to say about how he might deal with a coming crisis in [Medicare] due to the surge in health care costs" (Tackett, Chicago Tribune, 2/3).
According to CQ Today, the president's support for health savings accounts will "serve as an important bellwether for [his] continued push toward greater individual ownership and control of health care and entitlement programs." Bush said in his address, "To make our economy stronger and more productive, we must make health care more affordable and give families greater access to good coverage and more control over their health decisions" (CQ Today, 2/3).
In "briskly [ask]ing Congress to pass a long list of proposals he made over the last year," Bush also called on lawmakers to provide tax credits help low-income workers buy health insurance (Los Angeles Times, 2/3).
Bush "exhorted Congress to act on initiatives such as ... curbs on perceived litigation abuses," the Wall Street Journal reports (McKinnon/Cooper, Wall Street Journal, 2/3). He said, "Justice is distorted, and our economy is held back by irresponsible class actions and frivolous asbestos claims, and I urge Congress to pass legal reforms this year" (Bush speech text, New York Times, 2/3). Bush reiterated his support for capping awards in malpractice suits (CQ Today, 2/3).
The president also "touched briefly" on his policies for treating HIV/AIDS, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports (Gilbert, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2/3). He asked Congress to reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act "to encourage prevention and provide care and treatment" for people with HIV/AIDS. Bush also noted that "we must focus our efforts" on African Americans, who have the highest rates of new HIV cases (Bush speech text, New York Times, 2/3).
In addition, Bush asked Congress to further efforts to increase the use of health information technology that could prevent medical errors and save money (CQ Today, 2/3). However, according to the Los Angeles Times, none of these issues "rated more than a sentence or two, suggesting that they had dropped to a lower rung on Bush's priority list" (Los Angeles Times, 2/3).
The Boston Globe notes that Bush referred to his opposition to expanding embryonic stem cell research "without mentioning ... the politically charged phras[e]" (Milligan/Klein, Boston Globe, 2/3).
Bush praised lawmakers for doubling the budget for NIH, but he noted that medical research "must not violate the dignity of human life," the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 2/3). According to the New York Times, Bush said he wanted to "work with Congress to ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation or grown for body parts" (Stevenson/Sanger, New York Times, 2/3).
Bush said, "To build a culture of life, we must ... ensure that scientific advances always serve human dignity, not take advantage of some lives for the benefit of others ... and that human life is never bought or sold as a commodity" (Thomma, Knight Ridder/Contra Costa Times, 2/3). He added, "We should all be able to agree on some clear standards. ... America will continue to lead the world in medical research that is ambitious, aggressive and always ethical" (Bush speech text, New York Times, 2/3).
Bush did not specify whether he would reconsider his decision to limit embryonic stem cell research to existing cell lines (Stevenson/Sanger, New York Times, 2/3).
Bush also noted that the budget he will propose on Monday will virtually freeze discretionary spending that is unrelated to military action or homeland security and "substantially reduce or eliminate more than 150 programs," the New York Times reports (Stevenson/Sanger, New York Times, 2/3). Bush said the budget will keep such spending below inflation (Mason, Houston Chronicle, 2/3).
According to Houston Chronicle, the reactions to Bush's address "proved that the harsh partisanship of the 2004 election has not subsided" (Martinez, Houston Chronicle, 2/3). While Bush's address, which was interrupted by applause 66 times, "was received warmly by the Republican-led House and Senate," Democrats "pointedly remained in their seats through standing ovations Republicans gave for many of the president's initiatives," the Globe reports (Boston Globe, 2/3).
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said, "When we believe the president is on the right track, we won't let partisan interests get in the way of what's good for the country. But when he gets off track, we will be there to hold him accountable" (Martinez, Houston Chronicle, 2/3). He added that Bush should join the Democrats' efforts to make health care more affordable, but he noted that Bush's address offered only "the same old ideology." Health care is "about old-fashioned moral values that don't get talked about much in Washington," Reid said.
Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who delivered the Democratic response to Bush's speech, also said Democrats would push for more health benefits for veterans. Reid added, "We can make sure America lives up to its legacy as a land of opportunity if the president is willing to join hands and build from the center" (Fram, AP/Houston Chronicle, 2/2).
A video excerpt of Bush's comments on health care is available online in RealPlayer. The complete transcript and video of the address in RealPlayer and Windows Media is available online.
In addition, NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday reported on Bush's domestic priorities, including medical malpractice reform. The segment includes comments from Bush; Paul O'Neill, former treasury secretary and CEO of Alcoa; and William Sage, a physician and lawyer who teaches at Columbia University Law School (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 2/1). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.