(by Jon Ward, Jan. 29, 2008, WashingtonTimes.com) – In his final State of the Union address last night, President Bush called on Congress to overcome election-year politics and impose fiscal discipline, prevent the economy from slipping into recession and bolster national security.
“We have unfinished business before us, and the American people expect us to get it done,” Mr. Bush said.
“Let us show them that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time,” he said in one of the few moments that prompted applause from both Democrats and Republicans in the packed chamber.
In a move the White House called “unprecedented,” Mr. Bush announced a crackdown on “pork-barrel” spending, specifically taking aim at a procedure that lets lawmakers secretly add pet projects to the budget. He also several times threatened vetoes if Congress overspends.
“The people’s trust in their government is undermined by congressional earmarks,” Mr. Bush said during the 53-minute speech.
Mr. Bush also acknowledged weakness in the economy, saying, “As we meet tonight, our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty.” After talking up a series of positive statistics, he acknowledged that “In the short run, we can all see that growth is slowing.”
The president sought to make his seventh and closing State of the Union a forward-looking address that emphasized “trusting and empowering the American people” to face the country’s greatest challenges, such as the threat of a recession, the energy crisis, global warming, the global economy’s impact on U.S. jobs and education improvements.
“The secret of our strength, the miracle of America, is that our greatness lies not in our government but in the spirit and determination of our people,” Mr. Bush said.
The president’s focus on entrusting ordinary citizens extended to the people of Iraq and the Middle East.
“Our foreign policy is based on a clear premise: We trust that people, when given the chance, will choose a future of freedom and peace,” Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush also said that despite the significant drop in violence in Iraq in the past year, U.S. troops “can still expect tough fighting ahead” as they try “to sustain and build on the gains we made in 2007.”
One of the few saber-rattling lines of the evening came in the terrorism section of the speech.
“Since 9/11, we have taken the fight to these terrorists and extremists. We will stay on the offense, we will keep up the pressure, and we will deliver justice to our enemies,” Mr. Bush said, to applause from Republicans and some Democrats.
However, for the first time since the eve of the 2003 invasion, Iraq was not the central focus of the speech. Some Democrats shouted “bring them home,” when Mr. Bush touched on troop levels.
Mr. Bush prodded lawmakers to move quickly on two “front-burner issues” – a $146 billion economic-stimulus package and a permanent update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He said that Democratic talk of adding to the stimulus package “would delay it or derail it, and neither option is acceptable,” drawing loud applause from Republicans but stone-faced stares from Democrats.
But facing low approval ratings and a Democrat-controlled Congress, the president kept new initiatives modest, including $300 million to help inner-city children in failing schools attend alternative institutions, a measure to allow U.S. military members to share G.I. bill benefits with spouses and children, an effort to buy crops from farmers in developing countries, and more federal funding for research on adult stem cells.
A handful of more-conservative Democrats, including Rep. Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat, stood and applauded Mr. Bush’s call for more research on “reprogrammed adult skin cells, which have the potential and do act like embryonic stem cells,” said presidential counselor Ed Gillespie. The stem-cell proposal was one of Mr. Bush’s few references to the social-religious issues.
The president also announced a summit in the District this spring to address the rising number of Catholic and parochial schools that are closing. The White House said that “from 1996 to 2004, nearly 1,400 urban inner city faith-based schools closed, displacing 355,000 students into other institutions.”
Mr. Bush got a big laugh while stressing the importance of tax relief during his State of the Union address.
“Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm, and Iam pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders,” he said.
On earmarks, Mr. Bush today will issue an executive order instructing federal agencies to ignore earmarks, commonly known as pork, added to reports that accompany spending bills. About 95 percent of earmarks are inserted into the reports to bypass public debate and consensus in the legislative process.
Mr. Bush’s move is part of an election-year effort to reclaim the mantle of fiscal responsibility for the Republican Party and his legacy. He threatened in December to issue such an order to apply to the 2008 budget but backed off and disappointed some Republican fiscal conservatives.
“While many of us would have liked to see the president set aside the earmarks attached to this year’s spending bills, a requirement to include earmarks in the text of bills will have a significant impact on this year’s appropriations process,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican and anti-earmark crusader.
“This will greatly assist those of us in Congress who would like to see this process reformed.”
Fiscal hawks and Democrats have attacked Mr. Bush for his spending record. Discretionary spending rose sharply during Mr. Bush’s first term, outpacing the rate of non-mandatory spending under President Clinton, a Democrat.
Democrats clapped and cheered sarcastically at the mention of fiscal responsibility.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, criticized the president earlier in the day for “hypocrisy” in allowing earmarks under Republican control of Congress to grow unchecked.
One of the 26 guests invited to first lady Laura Bush’s special box at the speech was Blanca Gonzalez, the mother of a Cuban dissident journalist, Normando Hernandez, who was jailed by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in 2003.
Another invited was Tatu Msangi, a 32-year old single mother from Tanzania, who was to illustrate Mr. Bush’s renewed call for Congress to double the amount of aid to Africa for HIV/AIDS, from $15 billion to $30 billion over five years. Other guests included Dr. Bill Krissoff, the 61-year-old father of a Marine killed in Iraq in 2006, who has enlisted in the Navy as an orthopedist on a combat surgical team.
Michelle A. Rhee, the reform-minded chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, was invited to Mrs. Bush’s box but declined because of illness. D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty attended as a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in part to protest the District’s lack of congressional voting rights.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was the Cabinet member designated not to attend, a custom designed to safeguard the presidential line of succession in the event of a catastrophe.
Mr. Bush has addressed a joint session of Congress eight times previously: in six State of the Union speeches from 2002 to 2007, in a speech after his inauguration in 2001 that had the trappings of a State of the Union but was a budget speech, and in a Sept. 20, 2001, speech responding to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
-Gary Emerling contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. What spending procedure by Congress did President Bush say he would crack down on in his State of the Union speech last night?
2. In his speech, President Bush emphasized “trusting and empowering the American people” to face our greatest challenges. List the challenges the President spoke about.
3. Name the two “front-burner issues” President Bush pushed Congress to move quickly on.
4. What new initiatives did President Bush propose in his State of the Union?
5. A fiscal hawk is someone who advocates less government spending. Why have fiscal hawks and Democrats attacked President Bush for his spending record?
6. What issue presented by President Bush was the most important to you? Did any aspect of the speech disappoint you? Explain your answers. (For the text and video of the 2008 State of the Union address, click here.)
7. In a president’s last year in office, he is often referred to as a “lame duck” because it is believed that he will be ineffective in carrying out any current or new policies. Do you think President Bush will be effective in carrying out his proposals in his last State of the Union speech? Explain your answer.
It is customary for the opposing party to respond to a President’s State of the Union address. Read or watch the Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union address at Speaker Pelosi’s website here. NOTE: Texas State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, delivered the Democratic response in Spanish. It is not on Speaker Pelosi’s website yet.
For background on the State of the Union address, go to WhiteHouse.gov.
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