President Bush will give his final State of the Union address tomorrow night, and the word that keeps coming up in news stories ahead of the speech is "modest." The White House admits there won't be any sweeping proposals -- and a lame-duck president in Bush's position doesn't have much chance of getting such ideas passed, anyway. Both the political elite and the public are focused on picking the next president. The president will, it's expected, call for extending his signature tax cuts, but other than that, there's no indication we'll see much of significance on the fiscal front.

And that's unfortunate. Because one of the useful things the president could do with his last State of the Union is give a clear warning about the long-term budget problems we face. In one of his last chances to use his bully pulpit, the president could embrace the message that nearly every budget analyst accepts, including his own Office of Management and Budget: our current course is unsustainable. The combination of rising health care costs, the retirement of the baby boomers and the government's inability to control its debt is going to have terrible consequences unless we start making serious changes. And this is one area where he could follow up strongly, with the president's budget message due the following week. President Bush has swung for the fences in previous State of the Union speeches, why not now?


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