State of the Union: Bush lauds progress in Iraq, pushes for quick U.S. stimulus plan
In his final year, the president proposes a modest agenda at home.
President Bush, standing before Congress one last time, urged the nation Monday night to persevere against gnawing fears of recession and stay patient with the long, grinding war in Iraq. He pressed Congress to pass quickly a plan to rescue the economy.Skip to next paragraph
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"We can all see that growth is slowing," Mr. Bush said in a blunt acknowledgment of rising food and gas prices, increasing unemployment, and turmoil in the housing and financial markets.
He cautioned against accelerating US troop withdrawals from Iraq, saying that would jeopardize progress achieved over the last year.
"We have unfinished business before us, and the American people expect us to get it done," Bush declared. It was his final State of the Union address and he faced a hostile, Democratic-led Congress eager for the end of his term next January.
With his approval rating near its all-time low, Bush lacked the political clout to push bold ideas and he didn't try. He called on lawmakers to urgently approve a $150 billion plan – worked out with House leaders – to avoid or soften any recession through tax rebates for families and incentives for businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.
"The actions of the 110th Congress will affect the security and prosperity of our nation long after this session has ended," the president said.
Senate Democrats want to expand the economic stimulus plan with rebates for senior citizens living off Social Security and extensions of unemployment benefits for the jobless. Bush said those changes "would delay it or derail it and neither option is acceptable."
He also pushed Congress to extend his tax cuts, which are set to expire in 2010, and said allowing them to lapse would mean higher tax bills for 116 million American taxpayers. For those who say they're willing to pay more, Bush said, "I welcome their enthusiasm, and I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders."
Before speaking, Bush turned to shake hands with a smiling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Dick Cheney, seated behind him. Bush's wife, Laura, and their twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, sat in a VIP box. His speech lasted 53 minutes, interrupted frequently by applause, most often by Republican lawmakers.
Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the war has been a main topic of Bush's annual addresses to Congress. He said Monday night the buildup of 30,000 US troops and an increase in Iraqi forces "have achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago."
"Some may deny the surge is working," Bush said, "but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq and this enemy will be defeated."
Still, Bush said, "The mission in Iraq has been difficult and trying for our nation. But it is in the vital interest of the United States that we succeed."