A Teleconference With Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary, About The State Of The Union Speech

I just got off of a teleconference with Tony Snow about the President’s State of the Union speech tonight. Tony did as good a job as anyone possibly could trying to sell the thing, but I can’t say that much of anything Bush will be talking about seems particularly exciting except for the health care plan, which I like.

PS: I will be live blogging the speech tonight at 9 PM, EST.

Here are my notes (not quotes), from the teleconference.

Tony Snow’s Opening Statement

The first half of the speech will be domestic policy. The 2nd half will be foreign policy. Bush isn’t going to cover the same ground he did in the speech last week although the President will discuss how failure in Iraq would hurt the US not only in security, but in economic issues. He will also briefly mention Iran and Syria.

The first half will begin with congrats to Nancy Pelosi for being the first woman speaker. The Democrats claim they want to work with the President and he is happy to do it. Here are five major planks:

1) Deficit reduction to balance the budget within 5 years. Bush wants the line item veto, to extend the tax cuts, and to cut earmarks in half. He will also make the case for entitlement reform.

2) Energy: 20 in 10 plan. Reduce energy consumption 20% in 10 years. That will be done in part by increasing and rewriting CAFE standards. We will also want to double the strategic petroleum reserve.

3) Health Care: Now, tax deductions for health care only come through work. That bias would be gone. The President’s plan would create price competition and a tax credit for the self-employed. For chronic conditions, he is encouraging states to put together risk pools.

4) No Child Left Behind. Extend to everyone through high school. Expand school choice options.

5) Immigration: He will propose comprehensive immigration reform.

He wants to expand the size of the military by 92k slots and he will talk about AIDS and malaria prevention in Africa.

Q&A Session

Q: 600 militia men arrested in Iraq and a high level Mahdi army guy arrested — does that mean the Iraqis are catching on?

A: The Iraqi PM has said to the militias, “You’re on your own now.” I’m not rendering final judgment, but these are signs of progress.

Q: On the health care issues, why has it taken him this long to propose something?

A: I can’t address the timing issue. But, I think this is an important initiative. This system currently is geared towards corporations, not individuals. We want to change that. I can’t answer why now, but why not now?

Q: How do you expect the Democrats to respond?

A: We’ll see, but Democrats realize that they have to accomplish something. Just saying, “no,” isn’t accomplishing anything. There are a lot of areas that the Democrats can work with the President to get things done.

Q: These speeches are usually split between the foreign policy and domestic issues. Has the foreign policy part been scaled down here?

A: No, the President will hit foreign policy. Also, if we run in Iraq, the neighboring countries will lose confidence and cut side deals with countries not friendly to us. If we finish the job, people realize that we’re serious and they may even see that, hey, democracy in Iraq can be pretty nice. It may inspire them to want the same thing. The State of the Union won’t be what sways people on Iraq though, it’ll be results on the ground.

Q: How far will he go on Social Security tonight?

A: I think he is going to hit the same ground he has also covered.

Q: Bush’s approval ratings are as low as Nixon according to Drudge. Does Bush have a plan to bring his approval rating back up via the State of the Union Address?

A: The President doesn’t get into fetal position and feel sorry for himself because of poor approval ratings. Ultimately, the way you demonstrate that you’re better than the other side is to have better ideas. Plus, if we see progress in Iraq, it will help. And do the Democrats have anything to offer? They do nothing but oppose. Bush is trying to do his job, while they’re being negative. Rebuild enthusiasm amongst the base, reaching out to people on the health care issue, having better ideas are all part of bringing Bush’s ratings back.

Q: Rebuilding enthusiasm with the base? Speaking of that, you skipped over immigration and No Child Left Behind. How will Bush do this? Oh, and what about Social Security?

A: Republican leadership made the decision not to bring up Social Security. We won’t have that problem any more.

With immigration, we’re being aggressive on the borders. We’re catching heat for being too tough on businesses that hire illegals. We’re building fences. We’re putting state of the art technology on the border. We got rid of catch and release. We get the message. But, what’s the best way to deal with the people who are here? We have laid out the most difficult path to citizenship in history. They have to pay taxes and social security, they can’t break the law, they have to keep working. They have to master the English language, pay back taxes and fines. We want to work with the base on this and we think we don’t get enough credit for what we do right on illegal immigration.

With No Child Left Behind, it’s all about accountability and it will have a voucher component added in tonight. Conservatives should like that.

Q: At the top of the call, you mentioned Iran and Syria. How specific will Bush get tonight?

A: Not too specific. We made it clear that Iran needs to quit supporting terrorists and building nuclear weapons. With Syria, we want them to quit supporting terrorists.

And that’s all Tony had time for….

Hawkins’ Final Note: Snow is about as good as anyone you are going to find at putting lipstick on a pig, but long story short: the health care proposal is the only really new thing that seems to be coming out of the speech. The deficit reduction stuff is good, but probably too late to fix Bush’s big government Republican image. Illegal Immigration? It’s the same old, same old. It looks like there won’t be anything too exciting coming down the pike tonight.

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