State of the Union Address – Jan. 20, 2004

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Mr. Speaker, Vice President Cheney, members of
Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens: America this
evening is a nation called to great responsibilities. And we are
rising to meet them.

As we gather tonight, hundreds of thousands of American servicemen
and women are deployed across the world in the war on terror. By
bringing hope to the oppressed, and delivering justice to the
violent, they are making America more secure.


Each day, law enforcement personnel and intelligence officers are
tracking terrorist threats; analysts are examining airline passenger
lists; the men and women of our new Homeland Security Department are
patrolling our coasts and borders. And their vigilance is protecting

Americans are proving once again to be the hardest working people in
the world. The American economy is growing stronger. The tax relief
you passed is working.

Tonight, members of Congress can take pride in the great works of
compassion and reform that skeptics had thought impossible. You’re
raising the standards for our public schools, and you are giving our
senior citizens prescription drug coverage under Medicare.

We have faced serious challenges together, and now we face a choice:
We can go forward with confidence and resolve, or we can turn back to
the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw
regimes are no threat to us. We can press on with economic growth,
and reforms in education and Medicare, or we can turn back to old
policies and old divisions.

We’ve not come all this way — through tragedy, and trial and war —
only to falter and leave our work unfinished. Americans are rising to
the tasks of history, and they expect the same from us. In their
efforts, their enterprise, and their character, the American people
are showing that the state of our union is confident and strong.

Our greatest responsibility is the active defense of the American
people. Twenty-eight months have passed since September 11th, 2001 —
over two years without an attack on American soil. And it is tempting
to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable,
comforting — and false. The killing has continued in Bali, Jakarta,
Casablanca, Riyadh, Mombasa, Jerusalem, Istanbul, and Baghdad. The
terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world.
And by our will and courage, this danger will be defeated.

Inside the United States, where the war began, we must continue to
give our homeland security and law enforcement personnel every tool
they need to defend us. And one of those essential tools is the
Patriot Act, which allows federal law enforcement to better share
information, to track terrorists, to disrupt their cells, and to
seize their assets. For years, we have used similar provisions to
catch embezzlers and drug traffickers. If these methods are good for
hunting criminals, they are even more important for hunting

Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year. The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule. Our law enforcement needs this vital legislation to protect our citizens. You need to renew the Patriot Act.

America is on the offensive against the terrorists who started this
war. Last March, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a mastermind of September
the 11th, awoke to find himself in the custody of U.S. and Pakistani
authorities. Last August the 11th brought the capture of the
terrorist Hambali, who was a key player in the attack in Indonesia
that killed over 200 people. We’re tracking al Qaeda around the
world, and nearly two-thirds of their known leaders have now been
captured or killed. Thousands of very skilled and determined military
personnel are on the manhunt, going after the remaining killers who
hide in cities and caves, and one by one, we will bring these
terrorists to justice.

As part of the offensive against terror, we are also confronting the
regimes that harbor and support terrorists, and could supply them
with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. The United States and
our allies are determined: We refuse to live in the shadow of this
ultimate danger.

The first to see our determination were the Taliban, who made
Afghanistan the primary training base of al Qaeda killers. As of this
month, that country has a new constitution, guaranteeing free
elections and full participation by women. Businesses are opening,
health care centers are being established, and the boys and girls of
Afghanistan are back in school. With the help from the new Afghan
army, our coalition is leading aggressive raids against the surviving
members of the Taliban and al Qaeda. The men and women of Afghanistan
are building a nation that is free and proud and fighting terror —
and America is honored to be their friend.

Since we last met in this chamber, combat forces of the United
States, Great Britain, Australia, Poland and other countries enforced
the demands of the United Nations, ended the rule of Saddam Hussein,
and the people of Iraq are free.

Having broken the Baathist regime, we face a remnant of violent
Saddam supporters. Men who ran away from our troops in battle are now
dispersed and attack from the shadows. These killers, joined by
foreign terrorists, are a serious, continuing danger. Yet we’re
making progress against them. The once all-powerful ruler of Iraq was
found in a hole, and now sits in a prison cell. Of the top 55 officials of the former regime, we have captured or killed 45.
Our forces are on the offensive, leading over 1,600 patrols a day and
conducting an average of 180 raids a week. We are dealing with these
thugs in Iraq, just as surely as we dealt with Saddam Hussein’s evil

The work of building a new Iraq is hard, and it is right. And America
has always been willing to do what it takes for what is right. Last
January, Iraq’s only law was the whim of one brutal man. Today our
coalition is working with the Iraqi Governing Council to draft a
basic law, with a bill of rights. We’re working with Iraqis and the
United Nations to prepare for a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty
by the end of June.

As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the enemies of freedom will do all
in their power to spread violence and fear. They are trying to shake
the will of our country and our friends, but the United States of
America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins. The killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom.

Month by month, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility for their own
security and their own future. And tonight we are honored to welcome
one of Iraq’s most respected leaders: the current President of the
Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi.

Sir, America stands with you and the Iraqi people as you build a free
and peaceful nation.

Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for
the better. Last month, the leader of Libya voluntarily pledged to
disclose and dismantle all of his regime’s weapons of mass
destruction programs, including a uranium enrichment project for
nuclear weapons. Colonel Qadhafi correctly judged that his country
would be better off and far more secure without weapons of mass

Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and
Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with
Iraq did not. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective,
words must be credible, and no one can now doubt the word of America.

Different threats require different strategies. Along with nations in
the region, we’re insisting that North Korea eliminate its nuclear
program. America and the international community are demanding that
Iran meet its commitments and not develop nuclear weapons. America is
committed to keeping the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the
hands of the most dangerous regimes.

When I came to this rostrum on September the 20th, 2001, I brought
the police shield of a fallen officer, my reminder of lives that
ended, and a task that does not end. I gave to you and to all
Americans my complete commitment to securing our country and
defeating our enemies. And this pledge, given by one, has been kept
by many.

You in the Congress have provided the resources for our defense, and
cast the difficult votes of war and peace. Our closest allies have
been unwavering. America’s intelligence personnel and diplomats have
been skilled and tireless. And the men and women of the American
military — they have taken the hardest duty. We’ve seen their skill
and their courage in armored charges and midnight raids, and lonely
hours on faithful watch. We have seen the joy when they return, and
felt the sorrow when one is lost. I’ve had the honor of meeting our
servicemen and women at many posts, from the deck of a carrier in the
Pacific to a mess hall in Baghdad.

Many of our troops are listening tonight. And I want you and your
families to know: America is proud of you. And my administration, and
this Congress, will give you the resources you need to fight and win
the war on terror.

I know that some people question if America is really in a war at
all. They view terrorism more as a crime, a problem to be solved
mainly with law enforcement and indictments. After the World Trade
Center was first attacked in 1993, some of the guilty were indicted
and tried and convicted, and sent to prison. But the matter was not
settled. The terrorists were still training and plotting in other
nations, and drawing up more ambitious plans. After the chaos and
carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies
with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war
on the United States, and war is what they got.

Some in this chamber, and in our country, did not support the
liberation of Iraq. Objections to war often come from principled
motives. But let us be candid about the consequences of leaving
Saddam Hussein in power. We’re seeking all the facts. Already, the
Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related
program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq
concealed from the United Nations. Had we failed to act, the
dictatator’s weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to
this day. Had we failed to act, Security Council resolutions on Iraq
would have been revealed as empty threats, weakening the United
Nations and encouraging defiance by dictators around the world.
Iraq’s torture chambers would still be filled with victims, terrified
and innocent. The killing fields of Iraq — where hundreds of
thousands of men and women and children vanished into the sands —
would still be known only to the killers. For all who love freedom
and peace, the world without Saddam Hussein’s regime is a better and
safer place.

Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be internationalized.
This particular criticism is hard to explain to our partners in
Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand,
Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania,
the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the 17
other countries that have committed troops to Iraq. As we
debate at home, we must never ignore the vital contributions of our
international partners, or dismiss their sacrifices.

From the beginning, America has sought international support for our
operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have gained much support.
There is a difference, however, between leading a coalition of many
nations, and submitting to the objections of a few. America will
never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.

We also hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the
greater Middle East, where freedom is rare. Yet it is mistaken, and
condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are
incompatible with liberty and self-government. I believe that God has
planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom. And even
when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise

As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and
anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten
the safety of America and our friends. So America is pursuing a
forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will
challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and
expect a higher standard from our friend. To cut through the barriers
of hateful propaganda, the Voice of America and other broadcast
services are expanding their programming in Arabic and Persian — and
soon, a new television service will begin providing reliable news and
information across the region. I will send you a proposal to double
the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy, and to focus its
new work on the development of free elections, and free markets, free
press, and free labor unions in the Middle East. And above all, we
will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq,
so those nations can light the way for others, and help transform a
troubled part of the world.

America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our
most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of
empire. Our aim is a democratic peace — a peace founded upon the
dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause
with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special
calling: This great republic will lead the cause of freedom.

In the last three years, adversity has also revealed the fundamental
strengths of the American economy. We have come through recession,
and terrorist attack, and corporate scandals, and the uncertainties
of war. And because you acted to stimulate our economy with tax
relief, this economy is strong, and growing stronger.

You have doubled the child tax credit from $500 to $1,000, reduced
the marriage penalty, begun to phase out the death tax, reduced taxes
on capital gains and stock dividends, cut taxes on small businesses,
and you have lowered taxes for every American who pays income taxes.

Americans took those dollars and put them to work, driving this
economy forward. The pace of economic growth in the third quarter of
2003 was the fastest in nearly 20 years; new home construction, the
highest in almost 20 years; home ownership rates, the highest ever.
Manufacturing activity is increasing. Inflation is low. Interest
rates are low. Exports are growing. Productivity is high, and jobs
are on the rise.

These numbers confirm that the American people are using their money
far better than government would have — and you were right to return

America’s growing economy is also a changing economy. As technology
transforms the way almost every job is done, America becomes more
productive, and workers need new skills. Much of our job growth will
be found in high-skilled fields like health care and biotechnology.
So we must respond by helping more Americans gain the skills to find
good jobs in our new economy.

All skills begin with the basics of reading and math, which are
supposed to be learned in the early grades of our schools. Yet for
too long, for too many children, those skills were never mastered. By
passing the No Child Left Behind Act, you have made the expectation
of literacy the law of our country. We’re providing more funding for
our schools — a 36-percent increase since 2001. We’re requiring
higher standards. We are regularly testing every child on the
fundamentals. We are reporting results to parents, and making sure
they have better options when schools are not performing. We are
making progress toward excellence for every child in America.

But the status quo always has defenders. Some want to undermine the
No Child Left Behind Act by weakening standards and accountability.
Yet the results we require are really a matter of common sense: We
expect third graders to read and do math at the third grade level —
and that’s not asking too much. Testing is the only way to identify
and help students who are falling behind. This nation will not go
back to the days of simply shuffling children along from grade to
grade without them learning the basics. I refuse to give up on any
child — and the No Child Left Behind Act is opening the door of
opportunity to all of America’s children.

At the same time, we must ensure that older students and adults can
gain the skills they need to find work now. Many of the fastest
growing occupations require strong math and science preparation, and
training beyond the high school level. So tonight, I propose a series
of measures called Jobs for the 21st Century. This program will
provide extra help to middle and high school students who fall behind
in reading and math, expand advanced placement programs in low-income
schools, invite math and science professionals from the private
sector to teach part-time in our high schools. I propose larger Pell
grants for students who prepare for college with demanding courses in
high school. (Applause.) I propose increasing our support for
America’s fine community colleges, so they can. I do
so, so they can train workers for industries that are creating the
most new jobs. By all these actions, we’ll help more and more
Americans to join in the growing prosperity of our country. Job
training is important, and so is job creation.

We must continue to pursue an aggressive, pro-growth economic agenda.
(Applause.) Congress has some unfinished business on the issue of
taxes. The tax reductions you passed are set to expire. Unless you
act — unless you act — unless you act, the unfair tax
on marriage will go back up. Unless you act, millions of families
will be charged $300 more in federal taxes for every child. Unless
you act, small businesses will pay higher taxes. Unless you act, the
death tax will eventually come back to life. Unless you act,
Americans face a tax increase. What Congress has given, the Congress
should not take away. For the sake of job growth, the tax cuts you
passed should be permanent.

Our agenda for jobs and growth must help small business owners and
employees with relief from needless federal regulation, and protect
them from junk and frivolous lawsuits.

Consumers and businesses need reliable supplies of energy to make our
economy run — so I urge you to pass legislation to modernize our
electricity system, promote conservation, and make America less
dependent on foreign sources of energy.

My administration is promoting free and fair trade to open up new
markets for America’s entrepreneurs and manufacturers and farmers —
to create jobs for American workers. Younger workers should have the
opportunity to build a nest egg by saving part of their Social
Security taxes in a personal retirement account. We
should make the Social Security system a source of ownership for the
American people. And we should limit the burden of
government on this economy by acting as good stewards of taxpayers’

In two weeks, I will send you a budget that funds the war, protects
the homeland, and meets important domestic needs, while limiting the
growth in discretionary spending to less than 4 percent.
This will require that Congress focus on priorities, cut wasteful
spending, and be wise with the people’s money. By doing so, we can
cut the deficit in half over the next five years.

Tonight, I also ask you to reform our immigration laws so they
reflect our values and benefit our economy. I propose a new temporary
worker program to match willing foreign workers with willing
employers when no Americans can be found to fill the job. This reform
will be good for our economy because employers will find needed
workers in an honest and orderly system. A temporary worker program
will help protect our homeland, allowing Border Patrol and law
enforcement to focus on true threats to our national security.

I oppose amnesty, because it would encourage further illegal
immigration, and unfairly reward those who break our laws. My
temporary worker program will preserve the citizenship path for those
who respect the law, while bringing millions of hardworking men and
women out from the shadows of American life.

Our nation’s health care system, like our economy, is also in a time
of change. Amazing medical technologies are improving and saving
lives. This dramatic progress has brought its own challenge, in the
rising costs of medical care and health insurance. Members of
Congress, we must work together to help control those costs and
extend the benefits of modern medicine throughout our country.

Meeting these goals requires bipartisan effort, and two months ago,
you showed the way. By strengthening Medicare and adding a
prescription drug benefit, you kept a basic commitment to our
seniors: You are giving them the modern medicine they deserve.

Starting this year, under the law you passed, seniors can choose to
receive a drug discount card, saving them 10 to 25 percent off the
retail price of most prescription drugs — and millions of low-income
seniors can get an additional $600 to buy medicine. Beginning next
year, seniors will have new coverage for preventive screenings
against diabetes and heart disease, and seniors just entering
Medicare can receive wellness exams.

In January of 2006, seniors can get prescription drug coverage under
Medicare. For a monthly premium of about $35, most seniors who do not
have that coverage today can expect to see their drug bills cut
roughly in half. Under this reform, senior citizens will be able to
keep their Medicare just as it is, or they can choose a Medicare plan
that fits them best — just as you, as members of Congress, can
choose an insurance plan that meets your needs. And starting this
year, millions of Americans will be able to save money tax-free for
their medical expenses in a health savings account.

I signed this measure proudly, and any attempt to limit the choices
of our seniors, or to take away their prescription drug coverage
under Medicare, will meet my veto.

On the critical issue of health care, our goal is to ensure that
Americans can choose and afford private health care coverage that
best fits their individual needs. To make insurance more affordable,
Congress must act to address rapidly rising health care costs. Small
businesses should be able to band together and negotiate for lower
insurance rates, so they can cover more workers with health
insurance. I urge you to pass association health plans. I
ask you to give lower-income Americans a refundable tax credit that
would allow millions to buy their own basic health insurance.

By computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical
mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care. To protect the
doctor-patient relationship, and keep good doctors doing good work,
we must eliminate wasteful and frivolous medical lawsuits. And tonight I propose that individuals who buy
catastrophic health care coverage, as part of our new health savings
accounts, be allowed to deduct 100 percent of the premiums from their

A government-run health care system is the wrong prescription. By keeping costs under control, expanding access, and
helping more Americans afford coverage, we will preserve the system
of private medicine that makes America’s health care the best in the

We are living in a time of great change — in our world, in our
economy, in science and medicine. Yet some things endure — courage
and compassion, reverence and integrity, respect for differences of
faith and race. The values we try to live by never change. And they
are instilled in us by fundamental institutions, such as families and
schools and religious congregations. These institutions, these unseen
pillars of civilization, must remain strong in America, and we will
defend them. We must stand with our families to help them raise
healthy, responsible children. When it comes to helping children make
right choices, there is work for all of us to do.

One of the worst decisions our children can make is to gamble their
lives and futures on drugs. Our government is helping parents
confront this problem with aggressive education, treatment, and law
enforcement. Drug use in high school has declined by 11 percent over
the last two years. Four hundred thousand fewer young people are
using illegal drugs than in the year 2001. In my budget,
I proposed new funding to continue our aggressive, community-based
strategy to reduce demand for illegal drugs. Drug testing in our
schools has proven to be an effective part of this effort. So tonight
I proposed an additional $23 million for schools that want to use
drug testing as a tool to save children’s lives. The aim here is not
to punish children, but to send them this message: We love you, and
we don’t want to lose you.

To help children make right choices, they need good examples.
Athletics play such an important role in our society, but,
unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an
example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in
baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the
wrong message — that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that
performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on
team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the
lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of
steroids now.

To encourage right choices, we must be willing to confront the
dangers young people face — even when they’re difficult to talk
about. Each year, about 3 million teenagers contract
sexually-transmitted diseases that can harm them, or kill them, or
prevent them from ever becoming parents. In my budget, I propose a
grassroots campaign to help inform families about these medical
risks. We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so
schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is
the only certain way to avoid sexually-transmitted diseases.

Decisions children now make can affect their health and character for
the rest of their lives. All of us — parents and schools and
government — must work together to counter the negative influence of
the culture, and to send the right messages to our children.

A strong America must also value the institution of marriage. I
believe we should respect individuals as we take a principled stand
for one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our
civilization. Congress has already taken a stand on this issue by
passing the Defense of Marriage Act, signed in 1996 by President
Clinton. That statute protects marriage under federal law as a union
of a man and a woman, and declares that one state may not redefine
marriage for other states.

Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court
order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected
representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people’s
voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will
upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the
constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of

The outcome of this debate is important — and so is the way we
conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also
teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God’s sight.

It’s also important to strengthen our communities by unleashing the
compassion of America’s religious institutions. Religious charities
of every creed are doing some of the most vital work in our country
— mentoring children, feeding the hungry, taking the hand of the
lonely. Yet government has often denied social service grants and
contracts to these groups, just because they have a cross or a Star
of David or a crescent on the wall. By executive order, I have opened
billions of dollars in grant money to competition that includes
faith-based charities. Tonight I ask you to codify this into law, so
people of faith can know that the law will never discriminate against
them again.

In the past, we’ve worked together to bring mentors to children of
prisoners, and provide treatment for the addicted, and help for the
homeless. Tonight I ask you to consider another group of Americans in
need of help. This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from
prison back into society. We know from long experience that if they
can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to
commit crime and return to prison. So tonight, I propose a four-year,
$300 million prisoner re-entry initiative to expand job training and
placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help
newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based
groups. America is the land of second chance, and when
the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better

For all Americans, the last three years have brought tests we did not
ask for, and achievements shared by all. By our actions, we have
shown what kind of nation we are. In grief, we have found the grace
to go on. In challenge, we rediscovered the courage and daring of a
free people. In victory, we have shown the noble aims and good heart
of America. And having come this far, we sense that we live in a time
set apart.

I’ve been witness to the character of the people of America, who have
shown calm in times of danger, compassion for one another, and
toughness for the long haul. All of us have been partners in a great
enterprise. And even some of the youngest understand that we are
living in historic times. Last month a girl in Lincoln, Rhode Island,
sent me a letter. It began, “Dear George W. Bush. If there’s anything
you know, I, Ashley Pearson, age 10, can do to help anyone, please
send me a letter and tell me what I can do to save our country.” She
added this P.S.: “If you can send a letter to the troops, please put,
‘Ashley Pearson believes in you.'”

Tonight, Ashley, your message to our troops has just been conveyed.
And, yes, you have some duties yourself. Study hard in school, listen
to your mom or dad, help someone in need, and when you and your
friends see a man or woman in uniform, say, “thank you.”
And, Ashley, while you do your part, all of us here in this great
chamber will do our best to keep you and the rest of America safe and

My fellow citizens, we now move forward, with confidence and faith.
Our nation is strong and steadfast. The cause we serve is right,
because it is the cause of all mankind. The momentum of freedom in
our world is unmistakable — and it is not carried forward by our
power alone. We can trust in that greater power who guides the
unfolding of the years. And in all that is to come, we can know that
His purposes are just and true.

May God continue to bless America.

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