For the president’s full remarks, see “2005 State of the Union Address”
WASHINGTON (Talon News) — In his first State of the Union address of his second term, President Bush laid out a bold agenda which, as expected, contained an equal mix of domestic and foreign policy initiatives, and which focused heavily on reforming Social Security and promoting freedom throughout the world.
In his opening remarks (read full text), the president pointed out that since his first inauguration, the franchise of free and fair elections has been extended to the people of Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Ukraine, and a free and sovereign Iraq. He pledged to continue to spread freedom abroad with policies that offer a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideologies that breed terrorism.
He declared, “In the long term, the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. … The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom.”
Bush spent a good portion of his address talking about the commitment to the Iraqi people to help provide security and reiterated that American forces would remain in the fledgling democracy until Iraq was capable of defending itself. He pointed out that a strong coalition continues to assist both Afghanistan and Iraq as they develop into peaceful and democratic nations.
On the war on terror, the President said, “In the next four years, my administration will continue to build the coalitions that will defeat the dangers of our time.”
Bush noted that on Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would depart for Israel and the West Bank for meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian President Abbas. Bush will ask Congress for $350 million to support Palestinian political, economic, and security reforms.
The president said, “The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace is within reach — and America will help them achieve that goal.”
Bush hopes that the freedom that is taking hold in the Middle East would “inspire democratic reformers from Damascus to Tehran.” He gently urged other countries in the region to continue on the path of greater liberty for their people.
One of two emotional moments came when Bush introduced Safia Taleb al-Suhail, an Iraqi woman who had voted in Baghdad last Sunday.
He quoted her expression of gratitude for America’s liberation of Iraq, saying, “‘We were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. … Thank you to the American people who paid the cost … but most of all to the soldiers.'”
Safia’s father was assassinated by Saddam’s intelligence service 11 years ago. She rose from her seat beside First Lady Laura Bush to give the sign of a raised finger, evidence that she cast a ballot for the first time. Many Republican lawmakers raised purple-inked fingers to show solidarity with her and her countrymen.
Bush refused Democrats’ demand that he establish a timetable for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. He said that doing so would “embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out.” He reiterated that when the mission is complete, ‘our men and women serving in Iraq will return home with the honor they have earned.”
The president paid tribute to the soldiers who are on the front line in the war on terror. To those who have been injured, he promised assistance, to those who have died in the struggle he pledged that America would always remember and honor.
One of those so honored was Marine Corps Sergeant Byron Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, who was killed during the assault on Fallujah. He was represented at the speech by his parents, who sat with Mrs. Bush. Another emotional scene came when Byron’s mother embraced Safia Taleb al-Suhail.
The domestic part of the speech was dominated by the president’s plan for reforming Social Security. He renewed his call for a bipartisan plan for salvaging a system that cannot sustain itself in the future, but Democrats loudly booed when Bush said that the current retirement program was headed toward bankruptcy.
Bush spoke directly to the more than 45 million Americans already receiving Social Security benefits and millions more who are nearing retirement, saying that for them the system is strong and fiscally sound.
He said, “I have a message for every American who is 55 or older: Do not let anyone mislead you. For you, the Social Security system will not change in any way.”
The president discussed how the system needed to be updated to reflect America’s changing demographics. Longer life spans, increased benefits, and a shifting beneficiary-contributor ratio will result in the program beginning to pay out more than it takes in beginning in 13 years.
Bush pitched his voluntary program, the centerpiece of which is personal retirement accounts where younger workers could put a portion of their payroll taxes into investment accounts that would provide a higher rate of return. He listed other possibilities for reform, but insisted that Congress had a duty to take up the issue now instead of passing it to future generations.
The president announced that the budget he would submit to Congress next week would hold the growth of discretionary spending below inflation, make tax relief permanent, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. It would also substantially reduce or eliminate more than 150 government programs that are not producing results or are duplicative.
Bush also wants to expand the No Child Left Behind Act, provide more job training, and increase the size of Pell Grants. Additional items on the domestic initiatives list include legal reform, an energy program, and increasing the number of community health centers. The president is also looking to reform the federal tax code and immigration policy.
He renewed his support for a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage from the whims of “activist judges.” Bush also chastised Senate Democrats for obstruction his judicial nominees.
He said, “As president, I have a constitutional responsibility to nominate men and women who understand the role of courts in our democracy, and are well qualified to serve on the bench — and I have done so. The Constitution also gives the Senate a responsibility: Every judicial nominee deserves an up-or-down vote.”