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Monday, January 22, 2007

Consumers Union: Bush Needs To Show Real Leadership On Health, Energy

President Bush's expected call Tuesday for more tax breaks for buying health insurance, and more incentives for increasing the use of alternative fuels, falls short of laying out a real, comprehensive plan to address the nation's growing health care and energy problems, the organization Consumers Union says.

President Bush will give his annual State of the Union speech Tuesday evening before a joint session of Congress. The Bush speech will be televised.

President Bush is now looking for areas where he can work with the newly Democrat-controlled Congress. For the first time, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be sitting behind President Bush as he makes his speech.

"Last year the president made health care and energy reform key parts of his agenda, and we're still looking at record numbers of uninsured Americans and a growing reliance on oil," says Bill Vaughan, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union, which publishes Consumers Reports magazine.

"If the president really wants to take the lead on skyrocketing health care costs and securing our nation's energy future, he must put forth comprehensive strategies that truly help consumers," Vaughan says.

President Bush is expected to propose tax breaks for those purchasing their own health insurance as a solution to helping the 46 million of Americans without health coverage. But most low and middle-income families don't have enough income to purchase health insurance even with tax breaks, Vaughan says.

"Tax deductions do little or nothing for those people who are uninsured and devastated by high health care costs," Vaughan says. "When an individual family policy for decent health coverage costs about $11,000 a year, tax credits of $1,000 to $3,000 to buy insurance are almost meaningless."

Bush also is expected to continue pushing tax-free savings accounts for high-deductible insurance policies. "Giving tax breaks only encourages healthier and wealthier people to opt-out of traditional employer-based insurance, leaving behind a fractured insurance pool that hurts the older and sicker," Vaughan says.

Consumers Union also is urging President Bush to support legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors, and to adequately fund drug safety efforts.

President Bush also is expected to offer more incentives for increasing alternative fuels, and press reports indicate he may call for increasing fuel economy standards on passenger cars.

Consumers Union says President Bush and Congress should work together on legislation that sets high but achievable standards for improving the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks.

"Setting strong fuel efficiency standards would save billions of gallons of gas a year," says Anne Wright, senior policy analyst. "This move, coupled with mandates for use of energy efficient, renewable technologies, would be a positive step forward.

"We need leadership on an energy policy that includes real improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency, alternatives to gasoline, and energy conservation," Wright adds. "Rhetoric that translates into more do-nothing policies doesn't help Americans frustrated with high gas prices or the lack of innovation to ease our dependence on oil."

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