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A briefer, more general State of the Union

John Dimsdale and Kai Ryssdal Jan 22, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: If White House leaks are to be believed, tomorrow won’t be your average State of the Union.

No presidential laundry list of specific programs and policies. The White House is facing a changed political reality in Congress. And so the president will be more brief, and more general than usual

Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale’s the guy we turn to on days like this. Hi John.


RYSSDAL: Well we just heard Hillary talking about health care. What else, thematically, is the president going to talk about tomorrow night?

DIMSDALE: Energy’s gonna be a big topic. Remember a year ago, President Bush said the country is addicted to oil. Well, tomorrow he’s gonna push for the use of alternative fuels. Ethanol in particular. And these other bio-fuels. Energy from burning grasses and stalks, even wood. The president is likely to endorse a goal of replacing 25 percent of the nation’s oil and gas use with alternative, domestically-grown fuels by the year 2030.

American car makers are bracing themselves for an endorsement of higher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. But he won’t go for a cap on carbon pollution, which is what a coalition of business and environmental groups are calling for today.

RYSSDAL: What about this thing that was hot for awhile, John, but we really haven’t heard anything of in months and months and months: Social Security reform?

DIMSDALE: Well, the president won’t have a new proposal. But he is gonna say “I’m open to any and all ideas.” Whether it be tax increases, benefit cuts, new ways of investing, payroll taxes. He’s gonna challenge Congress to take advantage of this bipartisan spirit and get something done.

He’s also gonna talk about the budget, which, you know, was never passed last year. Was left in a mess by the outgoing Congress. Democrats have seized the initiative in the past couple weeks with pay-as-you-go reforms and limits on earmarks. The president’s gonna try to get back into that game with a push for reducing earmarks even more. He’s gonna ask for a line-item veto, and he’s gonna set a goal of a balanced budget by 2012.

But don’t expect any real details there, because that’s gonna be a really tough thing to do without drastic cuts in government programs. Especially if Congress renews the president’s expiring tax cuts in 2010, which is something the president says he wants.

RYSSDAL: You know, back when immigration was the story, John, a lot of people said the Democrats were more in-tune with the president’s thinking than their own party.

DIMSDALE: They are. They both want a guest-worker program, the president and the Democrats, and a way for illegal immigrants already in the country to become citizens. Which many in the president’s own party consider amnesty, and they’re totally opposed to it. But there’s an area for agreement and bipartisanship here, and the president’s hand is strengthened by the support of a guest worker program from the business community.

RYSSDAL: One last thing, John, quickly. Do we have any indication of what the president might say about education? It’s been five years of “No Child Left Behind” now.

DIMSDALE: Exactly. Congress has to renew the “No Child Left Behind” this year. Critics of the program want more flexibility for struggling schools in low-income areas that are not bringing test scores up. The president’s gonna say he’s open to tweaking his education goals to address some of those critics.

RYSSDAL: All right, we’ll see what happens. Marketplace’s Washington Bureau Chief John Dimsdale on the story for us. Thank you, John.

DIMSDALE: My pleasure, Kai.

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