Bush: Levees not a disaster
Josh Richman - Chico ER Staff Writer
SAN JOSE - President Bush visited Silicon Valley on Friday with some good news for the state's crumbling levees - though not the relief the governor sought - as well as a promise to invest in human infrastructure via education and economic initiatives.
The president and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took part in a panel talk on the president's ``American Competitiveness Initiative,'' a plan including federal money for scientific research and development; education reforms to produce a better trained, highly skilled workforce; immigration polices to attract and retain the world's best workers; and other elements.
But the bigger news came hours earlier, as administration officials announced the president wouldn't declare California's crumbling levees a federal disaster-in-the-making yet will let the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers help with vital repairs.
The president's order means the corps will accept $23 million in California money for fixes on 29 critically weak levees currently at risk of failure in heavy storms or an earthquake; the work is scheduled to start in June and end by November under accelerated environmental review procedures.
That money supposedly will be repaid to the state by the federal government at some unspecified date, and the federal government ultimately will foot about three quarters of the total bill if Congress agrees.
Schwarzenegger declared the levees a disaster in February and has been asking for an immediate $56 million in federal aid. Schwarzenegger said nothing about levees Friday in San Jose. His press secretary, Margita Thompson, later issued a statement calling the president's directive ``a step in the right direction'' but noting ``more work needs to be done if we are going to rebuild our levees as quickly as possible.
``We look forward to seeing the details and language of the president's directive,'' she said. ``The governor will continue pressing the federal government to expedite the levee repairs.''
Schwarzenegger greeted the president as Air Force One landed at Moffett Field shortly after 1 p.m. Friday, and rode with him on the short motorcade trip to the San Jose headquarters of Cisco Systems.
Joining them for the panel discussion there were Cisco CEO John Chambers; Foothill College President Bernadine Fong; RISE Network founder and president
``Our economy is good, real good, and we intend to keep it that way,'' the president told the invitation-only crowd of a few hundred Cisco workers and business and government leaders.
Staying competitive in the world economy means weaning the nation from its oil dependence, the former oilman said, adding skyrocketing gasoline prices are ``like a tax, particularly on the working people,'' and any company found to engage in price gouging will be dealt with ``firmly.''
But most crucial to American economic interests is staying on the cutting edge of technology while training a workforce that's prepared to tackle the 21st century's high-tech jobs, the president said.
Spending federal tax dollars on research and development makes good sense, he said, reminding the Cisco crowd that Defense Department research led to the development of the Internet ``which has kind of helped your business a little.''
He called for encouraging private R&D spending by making permanent certain tax credits, and he said investment in public education must go hand-in-hand with accountability measures such as those included in the No Child Left Behind education law. America must develop new, better math and science curricula; encourage Advanced Placement courses giving high school students a jump on college-level skills; and expand the Pell Grant program with ``tangible incentives'' for more rigorous courseloads, he said.
He'd started off by praising Schwarzenegger as ``really an interesting guy,'' bringing laughter from the audience. ``He didn't have to run for office but chose to do so and I admire that... I appreciate your service, I really do.''
Schwarzenegger later in the program reciprocated by calling the president's initiative ``brilliant'' before noting many of the economic markers he has been on the campaign trail this year - workers compensation reform, 575,000 new jobs, an $18 billion jump in state tax revenue - as evidence that a business-friendly environment can help keep California, and the nation, competitive.
``When California does things well, it affects the country,'' Bush acknowledged.
Polls show President Bush's popularity at a record low in California, and hundreds of protesters gathered a few blocks away Friday to call for his resignation or impeachment.
More awaited him at Stanford University, to which the president went afterward for a closed-door meeting at the conservative Hoover Institution.
California's Democrats seemed underwhelmed by the president's action and rhetoric Friday.
``Whether there's a state of emergency or not, the fact of the matter is that the levee system is in great danger. We need to take immediate action,'' U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in an e-mailed statement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, issued a statement noting House Democrats issued a similar competitiveness initiative months before the president's.
``Unfortunately, the American people are getting more of the same from the president - failure to follow through with the investment necessary to advance a domestic initiative critical to the nation's future,'' she said. ``More than two months ago, I called on the president to hold a bipartisan meeting of congressional leaders to advance this high priority agenda for our country.''
The president went from the Bay Area to the Napa Valley; he'll have a fuel-cell partnership event in West Sacramento today before heading to Southern California, where he has events scheduled Sunday and Monday.
For more on the president's American Competitiveness Initiative, see www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2006/aci/. For House Democrats' Innovation Agenda, see www.housedemocrats.gov/news/librarydetail.cfm?library-content-id=557
Contact Josh Richman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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