WASHINGTON - President Bush urged lawmakers and the nation last night to give him one more chance to win the war in Iraq and avoid the "nightmare scenario" of defeat, while presenting a domestic agenda intended to find common cause with the new Democratic Congress on issues such as energy and health care.
Politically wounded but rhetorically unbowed, Bush delivered a State of the Union address that gave no ground on his decision to dispatch 21,500 more troops to Iraq despite a bipartisan cascade of criticism. Addressing for the first time a Congress controlled by the other party, Bush challenged Democrats "to show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory." He warned that the consequences of failure in Iraq "would be grievous and far-reaching."
"I respect you and the arguments you have made," Bush told skeptical lawmakers from both parties. "We went into this largely united in our assumptions and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work."
With new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California - the first woman to hold the office - sitting behind him in a sign of the power shift on Capitol Hill, Bush congratulated Democrats on their victories in the November midterm elections and reached out to them with ideas to expand health-care coverage, overhaul immigration laws, and improve education performance. In his most ambitious new proposal, he laid out a plan to reduce projected gasoline consumption in the United States by 20 percent over the next 10 years.
"Congress has changed, but our responsibilities have not," Bush said. "We are not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences and achieve big things for the American people."
Democrats seemed unimpressed by his governing blueprint and signaled that they were in no mood to meet him in the middle.
"The president took us into this war recklessly," said freshman Sen. James Webb (D., Va.), a former Marine who gave his party's formal response to the speech. Accusing Bush of disregarding warnings by national security experts before invading Iraq, Webb said: "We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed."
Bush devoted about half of his speech to Iraq and foreign policy, largely repeating his familiar argument that the war was the central front in a broader battle with terrorists and was a "generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others." He linked Sunni insurgents, Shiite extremists, al-Qaeda terrorists and Hezbollah militiamen as arms of a broader radical movement but acknowledged that the mission in Iraq had changed from deposing Saddam Hussein to stopping sectarian violence.
"This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in," he said. "Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen, on this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve and turn events toward victory."
He did not directly debate Democrats' proposals to cut off funding for more troops in Iraq but asked them to let him try his new plan.
"In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success," he said. "Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching."
The immediate consequence he envisioned was an Iraqi capital plunged into anarchy. "If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides," Bush said.
He repeated his call to create a bipartisan advisory council on the battle with terrorists and promoted his administration's plan to permanently expand the U.S. military by 92,000 soldiers and Marines over five years.
Sitting in Laura Bush's box during the speech were five decorated Iraq veterans, including Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michelle Barefield, who survived three attacks by makeshift bombs at Baghdad International Airport, repulsed an enemy assault with her M-16 rifle, and was awarded the Bronze Star.
The White House also invited a domestic hero, Wesley Autrey, a New York construction worker who jumped onto subway tracks to save a man who had fallen during a seizure.
Bush's biggest previously undisclosed initiative was a proposal to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption 20 percent by 2017, largely by stimulating the growth of ethanol and other alternative fuels but also by increasing fuel efficiency of automobiles.
The president proposed an ambitious campaign to expand the use of ethanol, methanol, hydrogen and other alternative fuels by requiring oil refineries to use 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels by 2017, a fivefold increase over the current standard.
He also asked Congress to overhaul the mileage standards for automobiles.
Although Bush did not embrace any plans specifically to combat the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, aides argued that the effect of using less gasoline would curb the biggest source of such emissions. Bush also announced plans to double the capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to 1.5 billion barrels by 2027 to further insulate the United States from short-term disruptions in foreign oil supplies.
Bush also called for a major change in the tax code in an effort to make health insurance more affordable. Under his plan, health-insurance coverage would be taxable income, but families would receive a $15,000 deduction. The plan would make it easier for those who buy health insurance out of pocket an increase taxes on those who receive employer-funded health care worth more than $15,000.
Administration officials said the idea was to make basic health insurance affordable for more Americans. Bush said he also would direct more federal money to states to cover low-income residents.
Bush pressed Congress to approve his long-standing immigration bill, which couples increased funding for border security with a plan for a temporary-worker program.
He repeated his call for a balanced budget in five years and demanded reductions in special-interest projects approved by Congress. He called for reforming Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but mentioned those plans only briefly, highlighting the difficult path for an idea that dominated the first year of his second term.
What President Bush said about the Iraq war in
his previous State of the Union speeches:
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.
We will increasingly focus our efforts on helping prepare more capable Iraqi security forces - forces with skilled officers and an effective command structure. . . . America and its coalition partners will increasingly be in a supporting role.
Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning. . . . As we make progress on the ground, and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels - but those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C.
SOURCE: www.whitehouse.gov EndText
On the same day President Bush delivered his State
of the Union address, his opponent in the 2000 presidential election, former Vice President Al Gore, scored a success
in the film world.
Gore's film on the perils
of global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, won two Oscar nominations yesterday - for best documentary feature and best original song.
While he is not technically a nominee - the film's director, Davis Guggenheim, won the nod, as did singer Melissa Etheridge for the song
"I Need to Wake Up" - Gore said he was
"thrilled" that his movie was honored.
"The film . . . has brought awareness of the climate crisis to people in the United States and all over the world," Gore said in an e-mail statement. "I am so grateful to the entire team and pleased that the Academy has recognized their work. This film proves that movies really can make a difference."
- Associated PressEndText
Join John Dodds, director
of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, and Mark Pauly, a Penn health- policy professor, in an online chat with Inquirer staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen on Bush's health proposals at 2 p.m. today. Go to http://www.philly.com
to them at businessnews@