January 23, 2007 10:05 PM PST

Bush pushes energy regulations, ethanol

President Bush used the pageantry of his State of the Union address on Tuesday to outline a series of domestic policy ideas, including better energy conservation, while avoiding polarizing proposals he employed in previous years.

Bush's speech, delivered to congressional Democrats who have already rejected some of his proposals publicly, was largely devoid of proposals that could serve as lightning rods on social or civil liberties grounds.

Renewing the Patriot Act was a key part of the president's 2004 address, and dramatic Social Security reform followed a year later. This year, those were supplanted by calls for mostly bipartisan topics like reducing federal earmarks, improving public schools and spending more on controlling diseases in Africa.

Bush has mentioned energy policy reforms in every State of the Union address, including last year's call for more clean energy research. This year, he went further and called for more focus on renewable fuels--especially ethanol--and higher mileage standards for cars and light trucks.

Bush said that by tightening the regulations that deal with fuel standards for cars, the nation could save up to 8.5 billion gallons of gasoline by 2017. New regulations that focus on supporting renewable and alternative fuels could replace up to 35 billion gallons of oil, he said.

Those measures would, he said, "reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years" and dramatically reduce America's dependence on oil imported from the Middle East.

Even though Bush avoided any mention of the ongoing strife in Iraq until the second half of his speech, the topic remained the most obvious political undercurrent of the evening. A CNN/Opinion Research poll released Monday found that 63 percent of respondents disapprove of Bush's job performance and only 34 percent approve--a result due in large part to the troubles in Iraq nearly four years after the U.S. invaded the country.

"If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides," Bush said. He asked the U.S. Congress to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 people in the next five years, but did not say whether a tax increase would be necessary to pay for the new positions, which would cost billions of dollars.

Democrats were quick to respond with a rebuttal delivered by Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, whose son is a Marine serving in Iraq.

Webb said that the president "recklessly" brought the United States into the Iraq war, with staggering damage to the nation's treasury, reputation and lives.

"We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable--and predicted--disarray that has followed," Webb said. He said the correct formula would let U.S. troops to leave Iraq "in short order."

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