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Editorial: Bush's Speech

Hold your applause

President Bush's last State of the Union address offered no grand initiatives, which is fortunate because many of his bold plans of yesteryear await a new president to clean up.

Bush spoke of America's "unfinished business." Talk about understatement. The question isn't how to finish the jobs; it's how to limit the damage.

In Iraq, Bush wants U.S. troops to stay until an ever-receding future date when the country can protect itself. Iraqi leaders say another decade might do the trick.

The troop surge in Iraq is working, Bush argues. And he's right. Casualties in Iraq have declined. So, at a cost of nearly half a trillion dollars and almost 4,000 American lives, a war that the Bush administration started on trumped-up accusations is under control, at least temporarily. Everyone on the right side of the aisle, stand up and cheer!

The war is an open-ended commitment that the next president and the country cannot afford to keep, both in terms of troops and dollars. The war on terror will go on, but the next president needs to redirect resources far more effectively.

Another casualty of this misguided war has been Bush's domestic agenda. The war has sucked all of the time, energy and money out of the room. Bush's past pledge to create more access to health insurance? Forgotten. His promise to make Americans better stewards of the environment? In an hour-long speech Monday night, Bush mentioned the environment once. Making his cherished tax cuts permanent? Maybe, if so many tax dollars hadn't been spent in Iraq. Immigration reform? He says the issue is "complicated." Ya think, Mr. President?

The president vowed to veto any spending bills that do not cut in half the amount of "earmarks," or pork-barrel projects. It's a superb idea from a man who has no credibility on the subject. For the first six years of his presidency, Bush looked the other way while a Republican Congress increased spending on earmarks to a record $64 billion.

Now that Democrats control Congress, Bush is shocked - shocked! - at the level of pork-barrel spending - which is lower than it was under the GOP. The president is right about earmarks. He just needed to wield his veto power sooner.

The president who came to Washington as a "uniter" offered one small education proposal - a $300 million voucher program for students to attend religious schools. Unlike No Child Left Behind, it's the kind of plan Democrats are sure to oppose.

Bush was right to keep pushing his commitment of $30 billion to fight AIDS globally. Give Bush credit on this score. It's a heroic mission that will go down as one of his noblest achievements.

The economy is perhaps the one broad policy area where there's room for Bush to work with Congress. The House and Senate anti-recession packages are roughly $14 billion apart; Bush should work with senators in his own party to make sure the final product is enacted swiftly.

War, deficits and recession will feature prominently in the Bush legacy. As we heard Monday night, it's not the stuff of memorable speeches.