Last night was the first time in his presidency that George W. Bush gave his State of the Union Speech to a Democratically controlled Congress. He laid out his domestic agenda with renewed calls for action on energy independence, immigration reform and health care coverage. The last part of his speech dealt with the war in Iraq. So--how did it play with the Democrats and with members of his own party? Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is House Majority leader and Sen. David Vitter is a Republican from Louisiana. Both appeared on "Squawk Box."
Hoyer said President Bush was very gracious in his remarks to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (she's the first woman in the post)--and he said he felt Democrats were very respectful to Mr. Bush. But Hoyer said calls for bipartisan approaches have been made before by Republicans and the president-- with little results.
As for specifics--Hoyer said on immigration--the president may actually find Democrats more receptive to reform than Republicans. Hoyer says the country must find ways to secure the borders while allowing for some sort of guest worker program--and allow the 10-11 million illegals in the country to come out in the open. Hoyer admits that last part is a stumbling block with many Republicans.
As for health care--Hoyer wonders how the president's plans for tax cuts (see below) for increased health insurance coverage--will be paid for, especially when the president called for a balanced budget. Hoyer says these types of programs have not been passed by Congress and he doubts they will anytime soon. As for energy--Hoyer says it's good that the president is putting out some ideas for discussion. And on the war in Iraq--Hoyer says the president's plan of putting more U.S. troops in Baghdad won't work. Hoyer says that the president is right when he says we all want success in Iraq--but differ on the means.
For his part--Vitter says he thought the president's speech was bold and "out of the box." He said we need to do "big things" and the speech provides the "vision we need." As for the health care proposals, Vitter says it levels the playing field for Americans--but that we need to look at the details. Vitter also said that we need to generate more energy sources and the country is calling for an overall bi-partisianship from both Republicans and Democrats--who he says are both to blame for past partisan rancor.
Side bar: before his interview was done--Vitter was asked about the proposed merger of US Airways and Delta (he sits on the Senate Commerce Committee which is meeting today to investigate the possible merger). Vitter says he has major concerns about it--because both airlines have pretty much overlapping routes--in the same part of the country. He says that gives him "real qualms" about the idea. He said he intends to ask tough questions to company officials.
FYI: here's a breakdown on the Bush health care proposal. The plan would give families a tax deduction on the first $15,000 in health costs ($7,500 for singles). Anything over the $15K would be taxed as income and that money would go to giving health care coverage to the uninsured (roughly 47 million in the U.S.). The amount "available' to the uninsured would be about $4.5k.