Tuesday, January 29, 2002

'Wish list' varies for Bush speech

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Tristate “wish list” for what President Bush should talk about in his State of the Union address tonight includes providing more incentives for business, prescription drug coverage for seniors and more help for schools.

        At the same time, those who ask the government to do more acknowledge that the war and national security are powerful distractions.

  • AP preview & updates
  Network coverage plans for President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday. All times EST:
  • ABC — 9 p.m. to conclusion, anchored by Peter Jennings.
  • CBS — 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., anchored by Dan Rather.
  • NBC — 9 p.m. to conclusion, anchored by Tom Brokaw.
  • Fox — 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., anchored by Brit Hume.
  • PBS — 9 p.m. to conclusion, anchored by Jim Lehrer.
  • CNN — 8 p.m. to conclusion, anchored by Judy Woodruff and Aaron Brown.
  • Fox News Channel — 8 to 11 p.m., anchored by Tony Snow with Juan Williams.
  • MSNBC — 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. — anchored by Brian Williams.
  • C-SPAN — 8:30 p.m. to conclusion.
        Mr. Bush addresses a joint session of Congress at 9 p.m. to deliver his first official State of the Union speech. His address in the House last year was, by the tradition of newly inaugurated presidents, not called a State of the Union address.

        Michael Fisher, Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce president, said the president should outline a strong economic plan.

        “I hope he will provide specific ideas to help state and local economies, with some particular emphasis on metro and urban regions,” he said.

        Mr. Fisher said he also hopes the president will address long-term solutions for securing domestic energy sources.

        Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben said businesses are “cautiously optimistic” about the state of the union.

        Businesses hope Mr. Bush addresses “business competitiveness of the United States in a global economy and an indication that his administration will see trade as a priority,” he said.

        De Asa Nichols, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce, wants the president to concentrate on small urban businesses, “particularly, historically underutilized businesses, such as African-American and women-owned businesses,” she said.

        She said chamber members are interested in loan and incentive packages that will continue to expand the black middle class.

        “What is going to be done to encourage home ownership?” Ms. Nichols asked.

        The state of the economy is uppermost in Berry Ratliff's mind. The 31-year-old operations manager in a semiconductor plant has seen plenty of layoffs in the industry. He wants to know how officials will restart the economy.

        “What kind of plan do they have?” the Waynesville resident asked. “They keep lowering interest rates, but that isn't doing anything.”

Drug coverage

        Seniors groups in the Tristate are renewing a push for Medicare prescription drug coverage, a reform that had some steam behind it as a presidential campaign issue but vanished from the agenda after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

        “Seniors are just desperate. If America really wants to pay a tribute to the "greatest generation,' passing a prescription drug bill is how to do it,” said Marilyn Hyland, a Hamilton County Commission candidate who has organized a senior citizen lobbying group called the All-American Senior Health Initiative.

        Yet this year, with the economy in recession and the federal budget strained by expanded defense spending, the odds appear low of seniors winning much more than token help on prescription drugs from Congress or the Bush administration.

        “Given all the other priorities in terms of national defense and homeland security, health and human services issues are going to be at a second level,” said Lynn Olman, president of the Greater Cincinnati Health Council.

        Mr. Bush's State of the Union address is expected to voice support for a Medicare discount drug card, but many question whether such a card would make much difference.

        “There are a lot of questions about how substantial the discount would be,” said Dave Scharfenberger, administrator for the Working in Neighborhoods Senior Action Coalition.

        Naomi Roark, an unemployed operations manager for a janitorial service, is tired of the increasing prices for medications and doctor visits, especially for the elderly.

        “They need medication they can't afford,” said Mrs. Roark, a Hamilton resident.

        Managed care health plans that have been criticized for dropping seniors from Medicare HMOs would like to see greater reimbursement from the federal government, and not just for prescription drugs.

        “It all boils down to reimbursement,” said Larry Savage, president and CEO of Humana Health Plan of Ohio Inc. The government “just doesn't fund it adequately.”

Help for schools

        Educators around the Tristate say more can be done to improve schools.

        Fairfield Schools Superintendent Robert Farrell said he hopes Mr. Bush echoes the optimistic tone about education he had when he came to Hamilton High School on Jan. 8 to sign a landmark education reform bill.

        Sue Taylor, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, said she hopes Mr. Bush gives better direction to local and state educators on how to reduce achievement gaps between students of different races, ethnicities and socioeconomic groups.

        “The state of the union in education is that we clearly have huge achievement gaps,” she said.

        Northern Kentucky University President James Votruba said the challenges facing the nation in higher education are the result of a weakened economy and lower revenues at state levels.

        He said he would like to see the president address the escalating costs of higher education.

        Bobbie Stewart, a homemaker from Hamilton, applauds Mr. Bush's efforts for education, which culminated in the bill signing.

        “I enjoyed the speech that he had and what he signed for the schools,” she said. She said she hasn't yet regretted that she voted for Mr. Bush.

        Others will cast a wary eye when the president starts talking tonight.

        “He could talk all night and not say anything,” said Linda Burdette, a retired General Motors employee from Hamilton. “No matter what he says, it's a bunch of baloney.”

        Reporters Robert Anglen, Tim Bonfield, Jennifer Mrozowski, Dave Eck and Stephanie Steitzer contributed.

        Neil Bush promotes brother, business

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