In his first State of the Union speech of his second term, President Bush tonight urged Congress to make reforms on a wide variety of issues – from Social Security and the federal tax code, to immigration policy designed to stop “chaos at our border.”
“We should not be content with laws that punish hardworking people who want only to provide for their families, and deny businesses willing workers, and invite chaos at our border,” Bush told the nation.
“It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country, and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists.”
The president, however, offered no specifics on how he planned to prevent drug dealers and terrorists from entering the country illegally.
Bush said in order to keep the country’s economy strong, health care needed to be more affordable, giving families access to good coverage with more control of their health decisions.
“I ask Congress to move forward on a comprehensive health-care agenda – with tax credits to help low-income workers buy insurance, a community health center in every poor county, improved information technology to prevent medical errors and needless costs, association health plans for small businesses and their employees, expanded health-savings accounts, and medical liability reform that will reduce health-care costs, and make sure patients have the doctors and care they need.”
The president spent much of his speech discussing a troubling forecast for Social Security, while at the same time trying to ease fears among older citizens.
“I have a message for every American who is 55 or older,” he said. “Do not let anyone mislead you. For you, the Social Security system will not change in any way.”
But the president said if sound changes are not made, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt by 2042.
“If steps are not taken to avert that outcome, the only solutions would be drastically higher taxes, massive new borrowing, or sudden and severe cuts in Social Security benefits or other government programs.” He said he would listen to anyone who has a good idea to offer.
Bush reiterated his support for a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage, saying it was for the good of families, children, and society.
“Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be redefined by activist judges,” he said.
President Bush also continued to promote his theme of “liberty for all” around the world, as well as in the U.S.
He said America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny, but added, “the United States has no right, no desire, and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else.”
Despite calls in the past week from some Democrats to announce a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Bush said he wouldn’t set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, “because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out.”
During numerous standing ovations, television cameras showed many members of Congress displaying a finger which had been dipped in blue ink, as a sign of solidarity with the Iraqis who braved violence over the weekend to cast their ballots for the first time in a post Saddam Hussein-era.
“This blue finger is a sign of incredible courage on the part of the Iraqi people,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said after the speech, noting the ink stays on for a week in Iraq.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Bush said it was time to promote democracy in the Palestinian territories, saying he’ll ask Congress for $350 million to support Palestinian political, economic, and security reforms.
“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 said the U.S. needs to confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder, mentioning Syria and Iran specifically.
“Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region,” he said.
Bush also addressed concerns about Iran’s purported goal of developing a nuclear weapon, saying, “We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium re-processing, and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.”