- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush yesterday declared his New Year's resolve to "confront the danger of catastrophic violence posed by Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction," setting the stage for a showdown in early 2003.
Laying out his international and domestic agenda for the coming year, the president said Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is "a danger to his neighbors and to the peace of the world."
"The burden now is on Iraq's dictator to disclose and destroy his arsenal of weapons. If he refuses, then for the sake of peace, the United States will lead a coalition to disarm the Iraqi regime and free the Iraqi people," said Mr. Bush, who is spending the New Year's holiday on his Texas ranch.
"In the new year, we will prosecute the war on terror with patience and focus and determination. With the help of a broad coalition, we will make certain that terrorists and their supporters are not safe in any cave or corner of the world," he said.
In his final radio address of the year, the president set out an ambitious agenda that includes providing affordable health care, modernizing Medicare, establishing a prescription drug benefit, reducing frivolous lawsuits, creating church-run programs for the poor, reauthorizing the welfare reform law, building on education improvements and extending unemployment benefits for nearly 1 million out-of-work Americans.
"Our successes in the past year have prepared the way for great progress in 2003. Working together, we can make America more prosperous and keep the peace in the world," he said.
Mr. Bush, speaking hours before a midnight expiration of unemployment benefits for 800,000 Americans, sought to cut off criticism about Congress' inability to pass an extension.
"One of my first priorities for the new Congress will be an extension of unemployment benefits for Americans who need them," he said.
Democrats including New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who yesterday delivered the Democratic radio address on the topic complain that Mr. Bush did not do enough to push a proposed extension of benefits through Congress. Republicans say the Democratic plan at a cost of $5 billion compared with a Republican plan of less than $1 billion was a budget buster.
Mr. Bush also set other priorities in his radio address.
"We will also work to ensure that all Americans have access to high-quality, affordable health care. We will keep our commitment to America's seniors by working to reform and modernize Medicare and include a prescription drug benefit to help seniors who are squeezed by rising drug prices," he said.
"We will tackle the crisis of frivolous lawsuits that drive up the cost of health care. We will continue to carry out the comprehensive education reforms I've signed into law last January, so no child in America is left behind.
"My administration will work to continue to remove barriers that hinder the good work of faith-based and community groups. And we will work to reauthorize the historic welfare reform law that has improved so many lives," said Mr. Bush.
The president shared credit with lawmakers for achievements in 2002.
"Our government came together to pass an economic growth bill to jump-start the economy. We extended unemployment benefits for workers who lost their jobs after the terrorist attacks. Congress passed trade promotion authority, which gave me a stronger hand to help America's farmers and businesses sell their products abroad. And we worked together to enact a terrorism insurance legislation so our construction workers could get back on the job."
Mr. Bush said the efforts jump-started the economy and, by cracking down on "scandalous abuses by some corporate leaders," reassured jittery investors. His 2003 agenda includes a drive "to turn our economic recovery into sustained economic growth."
"I will work with Congress on a jobs-and-growth package to add momentum to the recovery and to put people back to work."
Mr. Bush is considering a proposal to slash taxes on corporate dividends to shareholders as part of a broader tax cut package expected to cost up to $300 billion.
The president said great strides were made in protecting Americans from terrorist attacks.
"America in 2002 continued our efforts to confront the danger of terrorism. We increased the security of our ports and coasts and airlines, and created a new Department of Homeland Security."
Working with U.S. allies, Mr. Bush said, the United States built on the military successes in Afghanistan.
"We captured top al Qaeda leaders, destroyed enemy training camps and froze millions of dollars in terrorist assets."
The list of agenda items is a road map for Mr. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. The Associated Press cited an internal White House document outlining "Possible '04 Signature Issues," which promised 10 items, starting with the "War on terrorism (Con't)," and "Protecting the homeland (Con't)." The "continued" abbreviation also was noted with the next four issues: health care costs and access, legal reform, faith-based services, and education.
Higher education, Social Security reform, tax reform and immigration reform completed the list.
As Democrats sought to make political hay over the list with some saying it illustrates the Bush administration's intent to politicize the war on terror a new Gallup poll found that the president is atop the "most admired" list.
Among men, Mr. Bush received a commanding 28 percent of the vote well ahead of the runner-up, former President Jimmy Carter, who was in single digits.

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