Peoria Journal Star

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Lawmakers split on address
Democratic senators are unimpressed, while Republicans praise State of the Union speech

By Dori Meinert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Illinois lawmakers split along party lines in their assessment of President Bush's speech to the nation Tuesday night, with Democrats saying he offered few new ideas and Republicans applauding him.

"I was waiting for the president to really answer America's call for new direction and some significant change in leadership," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., noted that "after 46 minutes of speaking, the president used less than 60 words to tell us how he'd clean up Washington and restore the American people's faith in a government that works for them, not just big donors."

And, Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, said: "Working families are being hit by soaring health-care costs, skyrocketing heating and gas bills and declining wages. The president and the Republican leadership are failing to offer policies that meet these challenges."

However, Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, described the speech as "very optimistic, very upbeat." He praised the president's resolve to "keep our country safe and doing what we have to do to finish the mission in Iraq" and said that the proposals to solve health-care issues would be well-received.

In his speech, Bush proposed speeding up funding for clean-coal technology and to accelerate research into technology to produce cellulosic ethanol, which could be made from agricultural waste products such as wood chips, stalks or switch grass.

Congress last July approved an energy bill that would dramatically increase the use of corn-based ethanol, a provision that was long sought by Illinois farmers.

The bill would require refiners to almost double their use of ethanol to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.

Durbin said the president's energy proposals coming so soon after the last bill was signed into law was an admission that that legislation would have little immediate impact, as Democrats had suggested.

Obama said Bush "identified America's addiction to oil but ignored his administration's addiction to oil-industry giveaways that won't free us from our dependence on fossil fuels."

"We benefited greatly by the energy bill that passed, and now I think they're looking at alternatives," LaHood said.

Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Morris, who represents LaSalle, Bureau and parts of Woodford and McLean counties, said he was pleased to see energy policy as a central element of the president's speech.

"If you look at all of the priority issue areas that are facing our government, so many of them - economy, environment, national security - touch on energy in some major way."

Illinois could benefit from the president's emphasis on clean-coal technology. The state is competing for a $1 billion federal FutureGen coal plant project.

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or