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President Bush Addresses Health Care

Armen Hareyan's picture

In his final State of theUnion address on Monday, President Bush appealed for "extending orcementing past initiatives," and he reintroduced ideas that in the pasthave gained no traction such as health care tax breaks and a cloning ban, the Washington Post reports (Baker, WashingtonPost, 1/29). In his address, Bush called for health care reform thatinvolves market competition, rather than government mandates (Kranish/Milligan,Boston Globe, 1/29). Bush advocated a previous proposalthat would provide tax deductions to help U.S. residents purchase individualhealth insurance or coverage through employers and would eliminate tax breaksfor employer-sponsored health insurance in some cases.

According to Bush, Republicans and Democrats "share a common goal: makinghealth care more affordable and accessible for all Americans." He said,"The best way to achieve that goal is by expanding consumer choice, notgovernment control. So I have proposed ending the bias in the tax code againstthose who do not get their health insurance through their employer. This onereform would put private coverage within reach for millions" (Wolf et al.,USA Today graphic, 1/29).

Bush also said that Congress should "expand health savings accounts,create association health plans for small businesses, promote healthinformation technology and confront the epidemic of junk medicallawsuits," all of which would "ensure that decisions about yourmedical care are made in the privacy of your doctor's office, not in the hallsof Congress" (Bush speech text, Washington Post, 1/29).

Entitlement Programs

Bush "challengedmembers of the Democratic-majority Congress to reach bipartisan solutions"on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, according to the Globe (BostonGlobe, 1/29).

Bush said, "Every member in this chamber knows that spending onentitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is growingfaster than we can afford. Now I ask members of Congress to offer yourproposals and come up with a bipartisan solution to save these vital programsfor our children and grandchildren" (AP/Austin American-Statesman, 1/28).

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In his address, Bush alsocalled for Congress to:

  • Approve a $30 billion, five-year extension of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief;
  • Increase funds for research on "reprogrammed adult skin cells, which have the potential and do act like embryonic stem cells" (Ward, Washington Times, 1/29);
  • Pass legislation that would ban "unethical practices such as the buying, selling, patenting or cloning of human life";
  • Double "federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences";
  • Reauthorize and reform the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act;
  • Pass legislation to implement recommendations by former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala to "improve the system of care for our wounded" veterans (Bush speech text, Washington Post, 1/29).

Democratic Response

In the Democratic responseto the address, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) asked Bush to work withCongress "in the next 357 days to get real results and give the Americanpeople renewed optimism that their challenges are the top priority"(Abramowitz/Eggen, Washington Post, 1/29).

Sebelius called on Bush to support some Democratic proposals for health carereform (Lefler/Koranda, Wichita Eagle, 1/29). She said, "We knowthat we're stronger as a nation when our people have access to thehighest-quality, most affordable health care, when our businesses can competein the global marketplace without the burden of rising health care costs hereat home" (Sebelius speech text, New YorkTimes,1/29). Sebelius also asked Bush to sign legislation to reauthorize and expandSCHIP as a "first step in overhauling our health care system" (Branigin, Washington Post, 1/29).

According to the Bergen Record, her comments do not indicate that Democrats are "holding their breath for a presidential change of heart" but that they are "aiming more for drawing distinctions with Bush ... in an election year with the presidency and their majorities at stake" (Kellman, Bergen Record, 1/29).


"Monday night'saddress made us think what a different speech it might have been if Mr.Bush" had "made a real effort to reach for the bipartisanship hepromised in 2002 and so many times since" on health care and other issues,a New York Times editorial states.

In the event that Bush had made such an effort, he "could have used lastnight's speech to celebrate a balanced budget, one in which taxes produceenough money to pay for the nation's genuine needs, including health care forpoor children," according to the editorial. In addition, "he wouldhave been able to use last night's speech to celebrate the expansion of healthinsurance to tens of millions of children with working parents," theeditorial states.

According to the editorial, after Bush signed the Medicare prescription drugbenefit into law, his "appetite for making health care accessible andaffordable for all Americans vanished" (New York Times,1/29).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.