AUSTIN, Texas -- I like to think that Republicans are having fun. They're such cards. What a wheeze, what a jape. Talking about energy independence in the State of the Union Address! President Bush said, "America is addicted to oil" and we will "break this addiction." Oh what a good trick to see if anyone thought he actually meant it!

I'm not going to embarrass the perennial suckers who fell for it by identifying them, but I assure you they include some well-known names in journalism. Boy, I bet they feel like fools, having written those optimistic columns pointing to how Bush had made a fine proposal -- cut oil imports from the Middle East by 75 percent by 2025 -- and people should take it seriously and stop dissing him.

Of course, the next day the administration trotted out Energy Secretary Sam Bodman and Alan Hubbard, director of the president's National Economic Council, to assure us the president didn't mean it. Bodman explained, "That was purely an example." A 'for instance.' Like, we could set a goal like that. Actually, we could do that without breaking a sweat: set fuel efficiency standards at 40 miles per gallon in 10 years (hybrids already get higher mileage now), and you save 2.5 million barrels a day, just what we import now from the Mideast.

According to Knight Ridder, "Asked why the president used the words 'the Middle East' when he didn't really mean them, one administration official said Bush wanted to dramatize the issue in a way that 'every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands.' The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he feared that his remarks might get him into trouble."

Aw. Let's see, Bush lied so "every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands." It's our fault. We're so dumb, if he doesn't lie, we don't get it. Of course, those sophisticates who pay attention to stuff like the budget, where they decide how to spend the money, were already aware that the $150 million (a truly pitiful amount by Washington standards) Bush promised would go to making biofuels more competitive is $50 million less than what was in last year's budget for that purpose.

But, you are not to assume that Bush has given up on the Dick Cheney plan to drill our way to energy independence just because he didn't mention it in his speech. Last month, the Department of Interior released a plan that will open 590,000 acres in Alaska's Western Arctic Reserve for drilling. The land has been protected for decades.

The head of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Alaska Project, Chuck Clusen, said: "Scientists, sportsmen and conservation groups all agree we should protect the last 13 percent of the most sensitive habitat in the Western Arctic's Northeast area. Eighty-seven percent was already open. The Bureau of Land Management decided to hand all of it over to the oil companies. ... We can drill every last acre of wilderness, and it won't make us any more secure. We only have 3 percent of the world's oil, and the Middle East has 66 percent. Do the math. We can't drill our way to energy independence."

What a good joke.

And this guy Boehner, John Boehner, the new Republican majority leader, elected because of Tom DeLay's unfortunate indictment, what a gagster this guy is, what a zany madcap. He ran as a reform candidate! Har, har, har, har! This is a guy who's up to his neck in the K Street Project, in which conservative lobbyists and politicians walk hand-in-hand. Boehner has such a highly developed sense of ethics, he once distributed checks from the tobacco lobby on the floor of the House of Representatives.

But now that he's been elected, it's time to get serious, and Boehner has already backed away from Speaker Dennis Hastert's proposal to actually ban (gasp!) gifts and trips from lobbyists. Boehner figures it's enough just to report them. That'll take care of everything.

I tell you, this bunch of cut-ups just keeps the fun coming. Just a few weeks ago, the House of Representatives cut $16 billion from Medicaid over 10 years, which means states will increase co-payments on poor people and drop preventive care -- which will cost more in the long run, but what the hey. They also cut $12.7 billion in student aid and loan programs over five years, because who needs that? And cut another $1.5 billion in child support enforcement in the next year, which is positively brilliant and will result in a drop of at least $8.4 billion in child support collected over the next 10 years. Oh, and a measly cut of $577 million in foster care over five years, making it harder to take care of neglected and abused children, who probably did something to deserve it in the first place.

Now here's a little howler: Bush proposes cutting $36 billion from Medicare over the next five years only ... wait for it ... he's not cutting the money, he's saving it! A $36 billion Medicare savings. That's so clever.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.