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Bush offers big ideas, but will Congress concur?

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"Changing the tax code is a vital and necessary step to making healthcare affordable for more Americans," said Bush.

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But critics, such as Rep. Pete Stark (D) of California, chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Health, say that the poor pay little in taxes in any case, and thus a tax deduction is worth less to them than to wealthier Americans.

Representative Stark says he won't even consider holding hearings on the subject.

Administration officials insist that critics' attitudes toward the proposal may change.

"This is a bold, new proposal. It's going to take some time for people to absorb it and to understand it," said Joel Kaplan, deputy chief of staff for policy, at a briefing for reporters.

On energy, Bush called for a 20 percent reduction in gasoline usage by 2017.

"When we do that, we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East," said Bush.

This gas cut would be achieved mainly through a huge increase in the amount of ethanol and other alternative fuels blended into the fuel supply, under government mandate. The administration also proposed raising the fuel-economy standards for passenger cars.

An energy change of this magnitude would be huge. Producing the necessary ethanol could require the conversion of at least 30 million acres – possibly the biggest change in American land use since the Civil War, according to Steve McCormick, president of the Nature Conservancy.

"That will have serious implications for both water and soil quality and wildlife habitat," said Mr. McCormick in a statement. "It could also significantly raise the cost of gasoline impacting local economies."

In Bush's speech, Iraq and other foreign-policy issues followed domestic policy. But with the US on the verge of an increase of troops there – and with an Army sergeant who was recently awarded the Silver Star the last notable attendee mentioned by Bush – Iraq remained a subject foremost in the minds of many in the House chamber Tuesday night.

Bush asked for skeptical lawmakers to support his plan for a troop buildup, saying it represented the best hope for victory.

"Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. But it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk," said Bush.

He reiterated his often-stated belief that the war in Iraq is a "generational struggle," and that to pull out now would be to invite a regional conflict, and the establishment of havens for Islamist terrorists.

"Nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for Americans to succeed in the Middle East," the president said.

Democrats remained largely unconvinced, even scornful, of his assertions about the war.

"The president took us into this war recklessly.... We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable – and predicted – disarray that has followed," said freshman Sen. James Webb (D) of Virginia in the official Democratic response.

(For the transcript of Bush's State of the Union Speech, go here. For the Democratic rebuttal, go here.)