Government Relations

State of the Union 2008

                                                                     January 29, 2008

TO:                 Kevin P. Reilly, President
                       UW Board of Regents
                       Legislative Liaisons
                       Public Information Officers
                       Grants Administrators

FROM:            Kris Andrews
                       Assistant Vice President for Federal Relations

RE:                  Highlights of President Bush’s 2008 State of the Union Address

President Bush said last night that he will take action against earmarks this year, while also signaling that he will seek almost no increase in fiscal 2009 discretionary spending, other than security matters.  The Administration has stated that Bush’s fiscal 2009 budget (to be released February 4) will hold the rate of growth for non-security discretionary spending to less than one percent, well below the rate of inflation. 

The President proposed a similar marginal increase in last year’s fiscal 2008 budget, but congressional Democrats were able to provide billions more by providing less than requested for defense and foreign aid programs – even while adhering to Bush’s discretionary spending cap for the year.  Further, the President said that by restraining spending, there would be a balanced budget by 2012. 

He reiterated pledges he has made in the past that his budget would propose cutting or eliminating programs for a savings of more than $18 billion.  Historically, a majority of programs targeted to be cut have been education-related.

The pundits called it a “modest speech” with “modest goals.”  In laying out his agenda, which has little hope of passage in a presidential election year, other initiatives the President proposed of particular interest to institutions of higher education include:

  • Called on Congress to double spending for basic science research.  The President highlighted the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI).  It remains a focal point for the Administration to double spending for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology core activities;

  • Directed Federal agencies to provide new funding for stem cell research involving the reprogramming of adult cells, such as skin cells, to make them function like embryonic stem cells;

  • Called on Congress to pass legislation that bans practices such as the buying, selling, patenting, or cloning of human life;

  • Called on Congress to expand veterans’ benefits by allowing service members to transfer any unused GI educational benefits to their spouses or children, and to create a new federal hiring preference for military spouses;

  • Took aim at congressional earmarks and announced that federal agencies will be directed through Executive Order to ignore future earmarks that are included in committee reports without being part of bill text.  The President also vowed to veto fiscal 2009 appropriations bills unless earmarks are reduced by half (in size and number) from Fiscal 2008 levels.  Bush asked Congress to make such a reduction last year.  An executive order by the President would remain in place after he leaves office, unless a future president eliminated it.  Initial reports indicate that a White House effort to compel a 50 percent earmark reduction is unlikely to go over well with lawmakers in both parties who covet earmarks or who are concerned about the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.

If you have questions as the 2nd Session of the 110th Congress gets underway, please let me know.  You can reach me at 608-263-3362 or by email at