President Bush announced an alternative energy initiative during last night’s State of the Union address that could significantly increase research grants at the University.
The cornerstone of the proposal is a 22-percent boost in clean-energy research funding for the Department of Energy.
Bush characterized Americans’ oil consumption habits as an addiction that could be curbed through investment in new and existing technologies, including zero-emission coal, solar and wind power and nuclear energy.
University scientists have been beneficiaries of substantial government research grants in the sciences, and University officials had been lobbying for an initiative like the one proposed. Cynthia Wilbanks, University vice president for government relations, said she is confident that if Bush’s proposal comes to fruition, University researchers will benefit.
“I think there’s a great deal of enthusiasm for a renewed focus on the promise of new investment in physical sciences (and) energy – some of the basic R&D support that the President announced tonight,” Wilbanks said.
Over the last 18 months, University President Mary Sue Coleman has served on a nationwide council that sought more White House support for federal research and development funding at higher education institutions.
Each year the University receives more than $17 million in grants from the Department of Energy, representing 2.3 percent of total research funding at the University. Bush will likely include the proposal in the 2007 federal budget next week..
During the 51-minute speech, Bush split his remarks evenly between foreign policy and domestic issues.
Calling this one of the most “consequential periods in history,” Bush offered a vision for winning the war in Iraq and used clear, decisive language aimed at Iran.
“We are on the offensive in Iraq with a clear plan for victory,” he said.
Bush framed his Iraq strategy with a three-pronged approach designed to build an inclusive government, reconstruct the economy and train Iraqi troops.
“There is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure,” he said. “Hindsight alone is not wisdom and second-guessing is not a strategy.”
Bush also chastised what he described as a small clique of Islamic radicals holding the people of Iran hostage. The president demanded that the regime abandon its nuclear ambitions, discontinue its support of terrorists and work toward democratic freedom.
On the domestic front, the president revealed a broad range of modest policy initiatives, including a bipartisan commission to study the rising costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; a plan to make temporary tax cuts permanent; and a ban on human cloning.
“He laid out a very good plan for the country and showed a tremendous amount of direction,” College Republicans chair John Kelly said.
Kelly characterized the initiatives as concrete steps in the right direction.
Gov. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who responded on behalf of the Democrats after the speech, repeated the phrase “there is a better way” numerous times while challenging the President’s leadership on a broad spectrum of political issues.
“Our federal government should serve the American people, but that mission is frustrated by this administration’s poor choices and bad management,” Kaine said. “Families in the Gulf Coast see that as they wait to rebuild their lives.”
Political Science Prof. Lawrence Greene questioned Bush’s motives.
“He has never shown any interest in those initiatives before. This is an election year and he does not want to be a lame duck,” Greene said.
Jamie Ruth, vice-chair of the College Democrats, liked some of the domestic proposals, such as reducing dependency on foreign oil, but doubted Bush’s sincerity.
“The words are good, but I don’t know if he can put the money where his mouth is,” Ruth said.
Many pundits billed this speech as a crossroads for Bush, arguing he needed a strong performance to reverse growing public disapproval. If he is unsuccessful, commentators said, he will have a difficult time passing his proposed legislation.
Bush began the year with an approval rating of 52 percent and ended the year at 41 percent, according to FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll data. He is scheduled to travel to Minnesota, New Mexico, Tennessee and Texas this week to rally support for his newly minted proposals.
In a relatively light moment during the address, Bush made reference to his age as he transitioned from foreign policy to health care reform.
“This year the first of about 78 million baby boomers turn 60, including two of my dad’s favorite people: Me and President Clinton.”
Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) managed an ambivalent – if not cold – grin after the comment. About a minute later, Bush was abruptly cut off by a thunderous applause from the Democratic side of the aisle when he said that Congress did not enact his Social Security proposal last year. Clinton’s awkward grin was quickly replaced with a laugh and a smile. Bush waited about 15 seconds before the Democrats suspended their outburst amid a chorus of presumably Republican boos.