I reviewed the energy proposals from tonight’s address, so I may as well offer quick takes on the rest of it.
He breaks it down into eight categories: energy, health care, education, immigration, HIV/AIDS, malaria, defense, and spending reforms.
The health insurance portion will be the most discussed, and is also the least interesting.
The plan for health care is to reduce taxes on people who already have health insurance. It also offers some unspecified benefits to support states that offer insurance to their citizens. The plan does not itself extend insurance to anyone who doesn’t already have it. It does nothing to control medical costs. It does nothing to expand risk pools. It is a tax giveaway to those Americans wealthy enough to be able to afford insurance already. The tax giveaways may make the system more equitable, or maybe not. But it doesn’t actually do anything for people who are currently uninsured.
His plan for a reauthorized No Child Left Behind offers no new funding for schools, despite persistent complaints about the cost of compliance. Science and math education are going to be improved by testing them even more. There’s also a proposal that looks a lot like vouchers. Funds to make salaries for public school science and math teachers competitive with what they’d earn in industry are no where to be found. Systems that would give creative teachers the freedom to explore their own teaching style are also absent, replaced by regimented testing and a heavier emphasis on standardized curricula. Support for struggling students is all over, but programs for gifted students are not.
The immigration proposal is a retread of the failed plan he’s been proposing for years. Democrats in Congress have no interest in creating a class of indentured servants, and Republicans are squeamish about letting all those brown people in. Fences don’t work, but he still wants Congress to allocate the funds needed to build the fence authorized by the last Congress. There’s also talk of a mythical “tamper-proof identification card.” No such thing does or ever will exist.
There are many laudable goals listed in the section on HIV/AIDS. Ending discriminatory immigration practices, funding anti-HIV campaigns that promote not just abstinence but condoms, and low-cost antiretroviral drugs. There’s no suggestion that current requirements for funding abstinence-only programs be dropped, nor that restrictions on needle exchanges or outreach to prostitutes be revised. In addition, the speech advocates widespread HIV testing in the US, a policy of dubious merit. Testing people at low-risk wastes funds and increases the chance of getting false positives.
Malaria is bad, and we should send more bed nets to malarial areas. We should be doing this in a broad context of foreign aid and improvements in global public health infrastructure. April 25 will be Malaria Awareness Day. If the speech announces that last factoid, it will be the “Mars, bitches!” moment of the speech.
His plan for defense involves expanding the military. It’s nice that he recognizes our military is too small for its commitments, and too bad that he thinks the solution is a larger military, rather than fewer troops in Iraq.
On a related note, his supposedly balanced budget will not include the costs of Iraq. Nor will it account for reforming the AMT, and it will be overly optimistic about economic growth. It is therefore not a balanced budget, it is a farce. The rest of the budget section will call for things that Congress has already approved. Except for entitlement reform, where the President’s ideas are so unpopular that his Republican Congress wouldn’t even take them up. He will not, I predict, call for the simplest way to reduce the gap for Medicare or Social Security: earmarking the estate and gift tax to those trust funds.