Bush talks tax relief, health care and Iraq

The president’s address also proposed a new energy plan and asked Congress to ban partial-birth abortions.

Andrew Pritchard

With his approval rating dropping, the public anxious about the economy and the nation facing a possible war, President George W. Bush delivered the annual State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday.

“It’s very important in terms of setting the national agenda and can be used to enhance (a president’s) approval,” said University political science professor Jamie Druckman.

The president said the nation’s economy is recovering but still needs to create more jobs, and he urged Congress to reduce taxes.

“Jobs are created when the economy grows; the economy grows when Americans have more money to spend and invest,” he said, “and the best, fairest way to make sure Americans have the money is not to tax it away in the first place.”

The president also said the government should make health care affordable and accessible, especially by including prescription drug coverage in Medicare.

“Instead of bureaucrats and trial lawyers and HMOs, we must put doctors and nurses and patients back in charge of American medicine,” he said.

Bush pledged an energy plan that would protect the environment and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign fossil fuels, including $1.2 billion for research into hydrogen-powered cars.

The president reiterated the “compassion” theme that was one of the hallmarks of his campaign, praising American volunteers and proposing a $450 million junior high mentorship program and a $600 million drug treatment initiative.

Bush also asked Congress to outlaw partial-birth abortions and to ban human cloning.

On foreign issues, the president said the nation will seek peace between “a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine.”

Bush also proposed a new plan to stem the AIDS epidemic sweeping Africa and the Caribbean.

Terrorism and Iraq

The president said even though the public does not hear about the war on terrorism every day, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested worldwide.

“Many others have met a different fate,” Bush said. “Let’s put it this way: They’re no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies. … One by one, the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice.”

The government has also improved homeland security, the president said, including deploying the first test components of a ballistic missile defense system.

Bush said North Korea’s nuclear development program would only bring it isolation and hardship.

“America and the world will not be blackmailed,” he said.

Bush also said Iraq is hiding terrorists and weapons of mass destruction and threatening scientists who cooperate with U.N. inspectors.

“Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option,” he said.

Bush said the United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene Feb. 5 to consider its strategy regarding Iraq.

“If Saddam Hussein does not disarm for our safety and the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him,” he said, praising members of the armed forces.

Public discontent

Bush delivered his speech to a pessimistic public.

A Gallup poll conducted last week found 22 percent of Americans consider the economy excellent or good, while 28 percent think it is performing poorly – the most negative ratio the poll has measured since November 1993.

Moreover, 54 percent believe the economy is getting worse, while 34 percent think it’s improving, numbers that have been steady for the last six months.

Gallup’s overall measure of the public’s satisfaction found 56 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the state of the country, while 42 percent are satisfied.

Significant changes from 2002 include a 24 percent net decline in the number of Americans satisfied with how the nation’s government works.

Both nationwide Gallup phone polls surveyed 1,000 adults with a 3-percentage point margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level.

Democratic response

After declaring Democrats’ support for Bush working with the United Nations to confront Iraq, Washington Gov. Gary Locke hammered the president on the nation’s economy in the Democratic response.

Under the Bush administration, Locke said, the federal budget has fallen into a deficit and millions of jobs have been lost.

“Democrats have a positive, specific plan to turn the nation around,” he said, calling Bush’s economic plan “upside-down economics.”

The three principles of the Democratic plan, Locke said, are to jump-start the economy immediately, support middle-class families and be sustainable.

Locke said this plan includes tax cuts for all Americans, job creation and government investment in the economy.

He also said Democrats’ proposals for homeland security, education, Medicare and environmental protection would help more Americans than Bush’s plans.

Johnson Lee gives Green response

Minneapolis City Council member Natalie Johnson Lee criticized Bush’s Iraq policy in the Green Party’s response.

“In its eagerness to invade Iraq, the political establishment has revealed its true purpose,” she said. “Not security for Americans, but oil for corporations. Not peace in the Middle East, but military bases across the globe.”

She also called for protection for immigrants, homosexuals and affirmative action.

Andrew Pritchard covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]