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SOTU Expectations Low on the Hill

Leading up to President Bush's final State of the Union speech tonight, expectations on Capitol Hill are low, though for reasons that are split along party lines.

Democrats don't expect to hear much from Bush that they'll like tonight, for the simple reason that they've never expected much from him in the first place.

"I pretty much have lost hope, but the good news tonight is that it's his last speech," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.).

Across the aisle, Republicans are a bit more inclined to speak kindly of Bush, but they won't be listening for many bold new initiatives either.

"It's time to finish what you started in the 8th year" of a presidency, said Rep. Thad McCotter (R-Mich.), citing the No Child Left Behind education law and trade agreements as unfinished business Bush will look to complete this year.

Bush will indeed mention those two topics, according to a summary of policy initiatives the White House has already released. He'll also call for swift passage of the economic stimulus bill, continued progress toward a balanced budget and a grab-bag of other proposals on topics ranging from veterans' care and energy to immigration and judges.

No matter how many new programs Bush proposes, he is a lame duck, and his influence on the congressional agenda will diminish a bit each day from now through the end of the session. That's why he won't be calling for an ambitious new push immigration reform, or a concrete plan to save Social Security and Medicare.

On a narrower level, Bush's proposal to cut earmarks and possibly change the way they are written into bills has already prompted much discussion on the Hill from both sides of the issue.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), an appropriator who has been pushing for a bipartisan select committee to recommend changes to the current appropriations structure, expressed skepticism over both Bush's proposal and the effort by many conservative Republicans to get the entire party to swear off earmarks for at least a year.

"A unilateral House Republican moratorium isn't going to bring about any systemic change, and President Bush's proposal isn't going to bring about systemic change either," Wamp said.

And Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) suggested that, under Bush, the nation's "ship of state lies berthed in drydock and is in desperate need of repair."

"It is extraordinary that President Bush -- who continues to squander billions of dollars every week in Iraq -- presumes to lecture Congress on its stewardship of taxpayer dollars," Byrd said.

Stylistically, Wamp said that Bush has never been as effective a communicator as President Clinton was, but added that the Texan has certainly gotten better over the years.

"He is much-improved," Wamp said of Bush. "He's never going to get the MVP, but he might get the 'Most Improved' award."

Expectations aren't too high on the sartorial front, either.

"I expect a lot of people wearing red dresses and red ties," McCotter said. "I'll feel like I'm at a bullfight."

By Ben Pershing  |  January 28, 2008; 6:35 PM ET
Categories:  Agenda , Branch vs. Branch , Purse Strings  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Pots, Kettles and Earmarks
Next: Bush Hits on Stimulus, Earmark Reform

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