First lady touts agenda

First lady Laura Bush outlined the president’s plan for making health care more affordable and noted his support of stem cell research to a predominantly female crowd Tuesday afternoon at the Midwest Airlines Center.

Standing in front of a banner that read “Affordable Healthcare,” Bush told the audience of grassroots supporters and volunteers that President George W. Bush supports stem cell research despite what detractors say, but said it is “irresponsible to suggest” such research offers immediate cures for diseases.

The president “looks forward to medical breakthroughs that may arise from stem cell research. You may not realize that because many people try to distort his record,” Bush said. “But the truth is that George Bush is the only president to authorize federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.”

The federal government spent $25 million on embryonic stem cell research and about $191 million in adult and other stem cell research last year, she said.

“My father died of Alzheimer’s disease, and I share the president’s eagerness to find a cure for this devastating illness,” Bush said. “I hope that stem cells yield cures and therapies for a myriad of illnesses, but I know that stem cell research doesn’t offer a cure right around the corner – and it’s irresponsible to suggest that it does.

Much of the first lady’s speech catered to the women in the audience.

When she highlighted the Medicare prescription drug bill the president signed into law, which allows people to set up health savings accounts to purchase insurance, she said, “This is insurance that you own, that you can control, and that you can take with you from job to job, or take home with you if leave work to stay home and raise a family.”

The first lady received loud applause when she said President Bush wants to reform the medical liability system to reduce junk lawsuits against health care providers in order to reduce costs.

Marilyn Kruchell, 66, a Bush supporter and volunteer with FreedomWorks organization, which promotes less government involvement, held a sign that read, “Don’t Feed the Sharks Support Tort Freedom” outside the Midwest Airlines Center before Bush’s speech.

Laura Bush and daughter on Monday Oct. 4 2004
Click for Larger View

“I’m convinced one of the reasons our health care system has gotten so expensive is because of frivolous lawsuits,” said Kruchell.

Bush praised the president’s efforts in the war on terrorism, citing this coming weekend’s elections in Afghanistan as evidence of improved living conditions for women — and all people — living in Afghanistan. She said 10 million Afghan citizens, 40 percent of whom are women, are registered to vote.

“After years of being treated as virtual prisoners in their homes by the Taliban, the women of Afghanistan are now able to walk outside their doors without a male escort,” she said.

In respect to Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush said the United States still has “a lot of work to do.”

“Building a democracy takes time,” she said. “Think of how long it took us in our country. It took almost 100 years after our founders declared all men are created equal to abolish slavery, and not until 84 years ago did American women get the right to vote.”

Education was another topic the first lady touched on.

She said the No Child Left Behind Act has resulted in increased math test scores and more children reading at their grade level.

Audience member Mary Zarse, a 1966 Marquette alumna, teaches first grade at Wisconsin Avenue Elementary School and said she supports the No Child Left Behind Act.

“I like the idea of more testing because you have to assess the children,” said Zarse, 66. “There hasn’t been enough assessment, and at least (President Bush) is trying to do something about it.”

Tuesday was the First Lady’s second visit to Wisconsin in the past month.