WASHINGTON – President Bush urged patience and perseverance with the nation’s top two problems — a lagging economy and prolonged war in Iraq — in his last State of the Union address Monday evening.
“From expanding opportunity to protecting our country, we have made good progress. Yet we have unfinished business before us and the American people expect us to get it done,” Bush said.
Bush saved his best speech for last, said both Republicans in Maryland’s congressional delegation.
“I thought it was his best State of the Union address ever,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville. “It was filled with very specific policies and programs.”
No fan of the Bush education reform program No Child Left Behind, which he voted against, Gilchrest said he supported the call to debate education, but said the focus should turn toward public schools so they are not left behind.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said the speech was “great,” with the exception of the portion about schools. He, too, didn’t vote for No Child Left Behind, and wasn’t too pleased with any federal meddling in schools.
“There’s zero evidence that Congress and the federal government can do anything for education,” he said.
If the Maryland delegation is any evidence, the bipartisan cooperation Bush called for in the speech may not be forthcoming.
Maryland’s junior Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said, “I was hoping the president would seize on the goodwill of the stimulus package and hopefully would use the same format to move forward on the housing crisis in our country.”
The House and the president agreed on a $150 billion economic salvage package last week.
“The whole attitude of the speech,” Cardin said, “gave little hope that there would be a new working relationship between this president and the Congress.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, agreed, saying on issues like global warming and stem cell research, for example, Bush “stood in the way.”
“There are a lot of things we can work together on, but the president has been late to a lot of these issues,” he said.
As for the president’s legacy, Van Hollen said he failed at resolving the defining moment of his presidency, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The United States has defeated neither al Qaida nor Osama bin Laden.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, said the country’s sad state is evident in the foreclosure and for sale signs he passes every day.
“The American people are suffering,” Cummings said. “They pay more for gas, more for food. They’re losing their houses. . . .People are tired and they’re frustrated and I don’t think the president gave any real solutions to those problems.”
The president will appear in Cummings’ home territory of Baltimore this morning to review the Jericho program, a religiously based program designed to help inmates return to their communities.
The president’s promise to cancel earmarks — special, parochial spending projects — brought concerns from Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville.
“They’re important to every district in the country,” he said, “Every earmark is on my Web site. There’s money for roads and job training.”
Rep. Al Wynn, D-Mitchellville, and Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, both said the speech was just more of the same at a time when the nation needed ideas and solutions.
“I didn’t expect him to change his tune,” Sarbanes said, “but we haven’t seen him deliver on the promises he made.”
And Wynn said Bush “gave a laundry list of platitudes and ideals, but not a lot of solutions.”
Capital News Service reporters Will Skowronski and Veena Trehan contributed to this report.