(by Russell Berman, NYSun.com) WASHINGTON – America is “a nation at war,” facing a “wicked” enemy that is aiming to kill Americans along with democracy in the Middle East, President Bush said last night as he addressed a Democratic Congress opposed to his policy in Iraq.
While acknowledging that the current war “is not the fight we entered in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said its outcome was crucial. “Nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East,” the president said in his sixth State of the Union address.
The president laid out an extensive domestic agenda, including proposals to reduce gasoline usage, increase school choice, make health insurance more affordable, and overhaul immigration policy. But Iraq dominated a large portion of the speech, as the president stepped up his plea for Congress to give his proposal to increase troops “a chance to work.” Highlighting the struggle, Mr. Bush pointed out a guest of first lady Laura Bush, Sergeant Tommy Rieman, who was awarded a Silver Star after using his body as a shield to protect a fellow soldier during an enemy attack in Iraq in December. Also seated with Mrs. Bush was New York’s “subway hero,” Wesley Autry, who earlier this month jumped onto the tracks with a train coming to save a man who had fallen.
The address was the first State of the Union since Republicans lost control of Congress, and the president addressed the midterm elections immediately, congratulating the nation’s first woman speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, who drew two standing ovations as she sat behind the president’s left shoulder, next to Vice President Cheney.
Acknowledging the new climate in Washington, Mr. Bush said: “We are not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air.”
The president said Americans wanted the two parties to work together – a refrain that leaders in both parties have emphasized in the months since the November vote. “Our citizens don’t much care which side of the aisle we sit on–as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done,” Mr. Bush said.
With an eye toward finding common ground with the majority party, Mr. Bush emphasized proposals in areas Democrats may be more likely to embrace, chief among them energy.
A year after declaring that Americans were “addicted to oil,” the president set a goal of reducing gasoline usage by 20% in the next decade. He called for increasing the supply of renewable and alternative fuels, such as ethanol, and for stronger fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.
Mr. Bush also sought to sell his proposal to make health insurance more affordable by changing the tax code. The plan would lower taxes for Americans who buy private insurance but it would increase the tax burden for individuals whose employer-provided insurance costs more than the national average. It has drawn criticism from Democrats who are advocating for a universal health care system.
On education, Mr. Bush called for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act and voiced support for school choice. “We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools, and by giving families stuck in failing schools the right to choose something better,” the president said. The White House said yesterday that the government is proposing allowing low-income families to use “competitive grants,” often called vouchers, to send their children to private schools. The proposal drew immediate praise from advocates of school choice, but it is likely to face stiff opposition from many Democrats.
Signaling his intention to renew his push for an immigration overhaul, Mr. Bush called once again for a guest-worker program, an initiative that was opposed by some conservative Republicans but embraced by some Democrats.
Lawmakers interrupted Mr. Bush for applause dozens of times in a speech that lasted about 50 minutes. Ms. Pelosi stood alongside Mr. Cheney several times, and even rose to her feet at a few points. On Iraq, the president’s address marked a sharp departure from a year ago, when he told a Republican-led Congress that progress in stabilizing Iraq could mean a reduction in American forces there. Setbacks in the war over the last year led to his decision to send more than 20,000 additional troops to try to stem the violence. A majority of Congress, including some Republicans, opposes the plan, and Democrats have accused the president of ignoring recommendations by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and some of his own generals.
Acknowledging the instability on the ground, Mr. Bush said: “This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we’re in.”
He urged Congress not to cut funding for the war, which some Democrats have advocated. “Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure,” the president told lawmakers. “Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq–and I ask you to give it a chance to work.”
Seeking a conciliatory tone even as he forges ahead with a troop increase, Mr. Bush last night proposed the creation of an advisory council on the war on terror, to be comprised of leaders from both political parties. “We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us,” the president said. “And we will show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory.”
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. When acknowledging the new Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, what did President Bush emphasize?
2. List the proposals President Bush presented when laying out his domestic agenda.
3. In his 2007 State of the Union address, President Bush said “Nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East.” Do you agree with the President’s assertion? Why or why not?
4. Read the details of the President’s plan to make health care more affordable for all Americans at WhiteHouse.gov. Ask a parent to review this plan and discuss the pros and cons of such an idea with you. After discussing the plan, do you generally support or oppose this idea? Explain your answer.
5. 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 full text of the 2007 State of the Union address, click here.)
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