Bush: U.S. is 'addicted to oil'


President Bush gives his fifth State of the Union speech Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Behind Bush is Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Vice President Dick Cheney, left,.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool
Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
WASHINGTON - President Bush offered the nation a modest menu of energy, health and education proposals and warned against the "false comfort of isolationism" in a State of the Union address on Tuesday that sought to reassert his control over the nation's agenda heading into a pivotal midterm election campaign.
In one of his most striking declarations, Bush said that "America is addicted to oil" and set a goal of replacing 75 percent of the nation's Mideast oil imports by 2025 with ethanol and other energy sources.
But even that goal was more modest than it might have appeared - the United States gets less than 20 percent of its oil from the Persian Gulf - and the speech was notable largely for a lack of big new proposals from a president who for five years has not shied away from provocative and politically risky initiatives.
To his familiar call about ending "tyranny in our world," Bush added a new framework that sought to address the anxieties created by a rapidly changing economy and an aging society. The answer, Bush, was not to turn inward.
"Americans should not fear our economic future, because we intend to shape it," the president said.
In an echo of the Dwight D. Eisenhower's response after the United States was stunned by the launch of Sputnik in the 1950's, Bush called for an increase in financing for basic science and for better teaching of science and math in the nation's schools.
He warned that the two parties must find a way to work together to deal with the rapidly rising costs of supporting an aging society. He pushed his proposals to give individuals more control over and responsibility for their own health care costs. And at a time when high global energy prices are slowing the economy and pinching consumers, he pushed for greater energy independence.
"In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline," Bush said, his voice forceful and steady after days of practicing his delivery and editing and re-editing his words. "The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership, so the United States of America will continue to lead."
The only alternative to American leadership, he said, "is a dramatically more dangerous and anxious world."
The speech was also notable for what Bush did not mention. He offered no new ideas for rebuilding New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and made no proposal to clamp down on lobbying abuses in Congress that have led to the investigation of Jack Abramoff, a formerly powerful lobbyist and a major fundraiser for Bush.
Bush argued that the nation was in fact prosperous, but that Americans were anxious in the face of structural changes in the economy and challenges posed by such new economic powers as India and China. He said that uneasiness helped account for the opposition to free trade, calls for federal controls on the economy, and the sharp opposition to immigration seen in many states.
"Al these are forms of economic retreat, and they lead in the same direction toward a stagnant and second-rate economy," he said, adding: "Americans should not fear our economic future, because we intend to shape it."
Bush called again for making permanent the temporary tax cuts that were passed in the first years of his administration, but which are scheduled to expire. He said that the budget that he would outline later this winter would cut or wipe out more than 140 programs that are "performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities."
Bush, who has been under criticism from conservatives in his own party for allowing deficits to mount, did not specify which programs he had in mind, though he is likely to set them out in the budget proposal he will send to Congress on Monday.
The president returned to the issue of Social Security again on Tuesday, the proposal that collapsed under the weight of Democratic opposition and tepid support from his own party and the public last year. This time, in contrast to last year, when he rejected similar proposals, Bush called for a bipartisan commission to examine ways to deal with Social Security, along with Medicare and Medicaid. There have been numerous commissions in the past two decades that have looked at the problem, but none has been able to rally bipartisan support for either benefit cuts or tax increases to deal with the financial problems looming over the social welfare programs.
Bush, treading into an area that has created divisions within his own party, called again for an amnesty program that would allow illegal immigrants to work temporarily.
"We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy even though this economy could not function without them," he said.
Bush's discussion of energy marked a clear shift from the direction that he and his vice president, Dick Cheney, had taken over the first five years as they aggressively championed drilling for new oil in protected federal lands in places like Alaska, a proposal that was defeated in the Congress in one of this year's defeats for the president.
In discussing escalating energy costs, Bush avoided any drastic gestures, such as imposing a stiff tax on gasoline to discourage consumption, and did not renew his appeal to drill for oil in Alaska, a proposal that was killed in Congress this year. Instead, Bush called for new federal research on alternative fuel sources, including solar and wind power, and low-emission coal burning plants and nuclear plants.
And at a time when motorists are staggering from the cost of gasoline, he said the administration would increase research to produce cars that run on batteries and ethanol.
Bush delivered his address after one of the most difficult years of his presidency but on a day of political triumph, just hours after his nominee, Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., had been confirmed by the Senate as the 110th justice in the history of the Supreme Court..
The president strode into the packed chamber shortly after 9 p.m. for the traditional back-slapping, hand-grabbing, cheek-kissing walk down the aisle. The promenade under the bright television lights effectively kicked off Bush's last campaign as a sitting president to gain support in Congress for his agenda, this time before an audience of dogged Democrats and nervous Republicans, who find themselves mired in a contentious leadership battle and an influence-peddling investigation in their top ranks on Capitol Hill.
Bush stepped before Congress as a far less popular president than he was during his State of the Union address just one year ago, when he was emboldened by his victory over Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race. He spoke optimistically then about the war in Iraq and about rewriting the nation's Social Security system, a signature initiative that failed.
When it came to foreign policy, Bush broke no new ground, and used language drawn from previous speeches. He held out the possibility of reducing the 140,000 American troops in Iraq over the next year, but made no promises. He grimly warned Iran not to pursue its nuclear weapons ambitions, calling it "a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people." And he called on the militant Islamic group Hamas, the overwhelming victor in last week's Palestinian election, to "recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace."
Bush continued his vigorous defense of his administration's secret eavesdropping program, and suggested that it could have caught some of the Sept. 11 hijackers, although he provided few details. "We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al-Qaida operatives overseas," Bush said. "But we did not know about their plans until it was too late."
The president built on the theme of his second inaugural address, and even in the face of the Hamas victory issued a strong call for democracy and elections in the Middle East. "In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies on earth," Bush said. "Today there are 122."
Bush also reiterated that his administration's war on terrorism was not creating more terrorists, as critics of his policies believe.
"In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders," Bush said. "If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores."
On domestic policy, Bush offered a panoply of proposals in health care, energy and education that reflected the restrictions imposed on him by the growing budget deficit and a Congress that will be reluctant to take on divisive new legislation in an election year.
Bush called for the federal government to pay the costs of training 70,000 new high school teachers for Advanced Placement courses and for recruiting 30,000 math and science professionals as resources in school classrooms. He cast the proposal as essential to maintaining American competitiveness in a world economy that includes new powerhouses like India and China.
"We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity," Bush said. "Our greatest advantage in the world has always been our educated, hard-working, ambitious people and we are going to keep that edge."
In health care, Bush proposed changes in legislation to make it easier for employers to offer, and for individuals to buy, health savings accounts, which offer tax incentives to people to put aside money for medical expenses.
"Our government has a responsibility to help provide health care for the poor and the elderly, and we are meeting that responsibility," Bush said. "For all Americans, we must confront the rising cost of care, strengthen the doctor-patient relationship and help people afford the insurance coverage they need."
In energy policy, which consumed a major portion of his address, Bush promoted the construction of nuclear power plants and renewed a call for the development of alternative fuel for automobiles, including ethanol, which is made from corn, as well as the development of fuel made from the waste of plant crops. Bush said he was optimistic about fuel made from plant waste, like corn leaves and stalks, but research is still in the early stages and energy analysts say it is years away from commercial use.
Energy analysts also said that Bush's goal to replace 75 per cent of America's Mideast oil imports by 2025 was not as meaningful as it appeared because the bigger suppliers to the United States are Mexico, Canada and Venezuela. The United States imports about 12 million barrels of oil out of the 20.6 million barrels it consumes a day.
But for Bush, the emphasis on reducing foreign dependence on oil, particularly in the often volatile Persian Gulf, reflected a critical political dynamic this year: Republicans have been increasingly alarmed that escalating gas and home heating prices could prove a major issue in congressional elections this year, particularly as oil companies are reporting record profits.

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