State of the Union Address Could Have Been Better (Rep. Gus Bilirakis)

Last night's State of the Union Address marked President Bush's seventh and final time to address the nation on his plans for the year ahead.

In his speech, the President made several pronouncements, such as improving benefits for veterans and military personnel and their families, and changes in the tax code to make health care more accessible.

A substantial part of the President's speech focused on the need for Congress to stimulate the economy over the short-term by passing the negotiated stimulus package, while at the same time ensuring long-term economic health through the permanence of existing tax relief. I believe Congress should go a step further and include a permanent repeal of the AMT and death tax in this laundry list of issues to address in 2008.

Last night President Bush also took a strong position on earmark reform, which I believe will force Congress to finally confront the broken earmarking process and pass real reforms that apply principles of transparency and fiscal discipline. Congress will never fully grasp runaway fiscal spending unless we tackle this issue of earmarking head on and engage in an honest and open debate about what can be done to bring it under control.

The President's speech could have been better had he readjusted his position on illegal immigration. In my opinion, his proposal still focuses too heavily on rewarding illegal behavior and does not place enough of an emphasis on bolstering our nation's borders and holding illegal immigrants to the same letter of the law as any other American.

Additionally, the President could have used last night’s speech as an opportunity to push for a national catastrophe fund to help ease the cost and burdens of homeownership in disaster prone regions, particularly in a state like Florida where 2007 home foreclosure rates are up 275 percent, the second highest in the country; and where the cost of owning a home, due to increasingly high homeowners insurance, makes it near impossible for many families to live comfortably.

If one thing was to be taken away from last night's State of the Union speech, it was that Congress and the President will need to work together to get anything done this year. Bipartisanship is no longer simply a word that can be thrown around between press conferences and news releases; it is something we really need to practice.