Tuesday, January 29, 2008

State of the Union

In my FindLaw column tomorrow I'm going to discuss President Bush's proposal---set forth somewhat cryptically in a paragraph of his State of the Union last night and also scheduled to be embodied in an executive order some time today---to attack earmarks. Here I'll limit myself to two observations about the State of the Union. I should preface these observations with the disclaimer that I didn't watch the actual address and so I'm basing this on the text.

First, it's notable that although the President said that the budget he will shortly propose to Congress "terminates or substantially reduces 151 wasteful or bloated programs totaling more than $18 billion," the speech mentions not a single program that Bush thinks warrants terminating or reducing. Indeed, he mentioned program after program that he said should be created or have its funding increased. Given that, given the fact that he also proposes to make his tax cuts permanent, given how small a number $18 billion is relative to the size of the federal budget overall, and given his continuing commitment to funding the Iraq War near its current level, his claim that his budget would lead to a surplus by 2012 cannot be taken remotely seriously.

Second, the Bush conception of bipartisanship appears not to have changed at all. In 2000 he plausibly ran as a "uniter" who had worked with Democrats in Texas. But people familiar with his record as governor sometimes pointed out that Texas Democrats in the 1990s were a pretty conservative lot, and so bipartisanship there meant going along with Republicans. Thus, in Washington, he has railed against partisanship any time Democrats (or even Republicans) have disagreed with him. In last night's speech, the clearest example was his pique at the fact that the temporary authorization for domestic surveillance will expire in days. The President said: "We’ve had ample time for debate. The time to act is now."

In other words, the purpose of debate, as Bush sees it, is for people who disagree with him to blow off steam, but once they've done that, they must come around and support whatever it is he wants to do. It does not appear to have occurred to him that the conclusion of the debate might be that his proposal was a bad idea. 356 days to go.

Posted by Mike Dorf