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Bush Looks to Past, Future in State of the Union

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Bush Looks to Past, Future in State of the Union

Politics

Bush Looks to Past, Future in State of the Union

Bush Looks to Past, Future in State of the Union

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In his final State of the Union address, President Bush reviews the major policies of his years in office, urges patience on Iraq and calls for Congress to pass a tax-rebate package.

LYNN NEARY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

In his final State of the Union address, President Bush revealed no bold initiatives. He used last night's speech to review accomplishments of his seven years in office. In a moment, we'll hear how the president's address played on Capitol Hill.

First, the president called on lawmakers to take steps to make sure the nation's economy rebounds from a period of sluggish growth.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: From the president's first moments looking out over the members of Congress below, he seemed in an unusually reflective mood last night.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Seven years have passed since I first stood before you at this rostrum. In that time our country has been tested in ways none of us could have imagined. We faced hard decisions about peace and war, rising competition in the world economy, and the health and welfare of our citizens.

GONYEA: And in the speech's opening minutes, the president had this plea for conciliation on the part of both parties.

President BUSH: In this election year let us show our fellow Americans that we recognize our responsibilities and are determined to meet them. Let us show them that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Then the president turned to the state of the economy. He said that in the long run, Americans can be confident about economic growth. But he also noted that a slowdown in that growth has caused concern.

President BUSH: America has added jobs for a record 52 straight months, but jobs are now growing at a slower pace. Wages are up, but so are prices for food and gas. Exports are rising, but the housing market has declined.

GONYEA: He urged Congress to pass a $150 billion proposal that is a product of an agreement between the White House and bipartisan leadership in the House. And he repeated a pitch he's made over and over again over the past four years - to make permanent the tax cuts passed during his first term in office, which begin to expire in 2010.

President BUSH: Unless Congress acts, most of the tax relief we've delivered over the past seven years will be taken away. Some in Washington argue that letting tax relief expire is not a tax increase. Try explaining that to 116 million American taxpayers who would see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800.

GONYEA: The president's average includes those taxpayers who saved tens of thousands of dollars per year because of the Bush tax cuts. A more typical middle-class family has saved between $500 and $600 a year. The second half of the speech dealt with foreign policy. Again, the president looked back.

President BUSH: We've seen people in Lebanon take to the streets to demand their independence. We've seen Afghans emerge from the tyranny of the Taliban and choose a new president and a new parliament. We've seen jubilant Iraqis holding up ink-stained fingers and celebrating their freedom. These images of liberty have inspired us.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: But the foreign policy story he most wanted to tell was about what he calls real progress in Iraq.

President BUSH: When we met last year, many said that containing the violence was impossible. A year later, high profile terrorist attacks are down, civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down.

GONYEA: The president said, however, that the enemy has not yet been defeated. He said Iraqis are doing more to provide for their own defense, but that to prematurely pull out U.S. forces would cede Iraq to extremists.

The president also continued his hard line on Iran, despite a recent national intelligence report that Tehran ended its program to develop a nuclear weapon years ago. And he pledged to do all he can to help to bring about a Middle East peace and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The president ended his final State of the Union address with this thought.

President BUSH: Our nation will prosper, our liberty will be secure, and the state of our union will remain strong.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: He stood for a moment looking around the House chambers seeming to take in the scene one last time, then he stepped down and lingered to shake hands and sign autographs from members of Congress before heading to his motorcade and back to the White House, knowing that just one more year of battles with Congress lay ahead.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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Bush Lauds Progress in Iraq, Economic Plan

The President's State of the Union Address

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The Democratic Response

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NPR Special Coverage (2 Hours)

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President Bush delivered his last State of the Union address to Congress Monday night, a speech dominated by his description of a policy shift that he said had brought success and the promise of victory in Iraq.

The president said that a year ago, the situation in Iraq was approaching chaos. But he said the promotion of a new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and a new "surge" strategy, combined with additional troops, had reduced violence and begun a process by which Iraqis might take over their own security.

"Some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt," Bush said. "Al-Qaida is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated."

At the same time, the president warned that withdrawing U.S. troops from the situation too quickly could bring al-Qaida roaring back and allow sectarian fighting to resume. Bush said 20,000 troops were coming home and would not be replaced, but that further withdrawals would await the judgment of commanders in the field.

"While the enemy is still dangerous and more work remains, the American and Iraqi surges have achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago," he said.

Tax Cuts and the Stimulus Package

The president also urged Congress to pass the $150 billion economic stimulus package he had worked out with leaders of both parties in both chambers. He said it would relieve anxiety about a slowdown in job growth and a decline in the housing market. He did not use the word recession.

"To build a prosperous future," he said, "we must trust people with their own money and empower them to grow our economy. "

Congress could also send positive signals to consumers by extending tax cuts originally passed in his first term, the president said, rather than letting them expire, as scheduled, beginning in 2010.

Taking on Earmarks

As an added prescription, the president said Congress could wean itself off its habit of earmarking dollars in appropriations bills to pay for special projects in individual states and districts. He also chastised Congress for refusing to approve his proposals for overhauling Social Security and immigration laws, the main thrusts of his domestic policy in his second term.

"Illegal immigration is complicated, but it can be resolved," he vowed. "And it must be resolved in a way that upholds both our laws and our highest ideals."

The speech was about 50 minutes long and was interrupted often by applause, as is traditional in these events. Republicans, sitting to the president's left, often rose in standing and cheering ovations. Most Democrats remained seated through most of these, applauding politely. But the mood in the chamber seemed more cordial than in past years, perhaps because the Congress senses the administration winding down.

Here, NPR reporters analyze key aspects of the president's address, summarizing his proposals and their prospects.

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