- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

President George W. Bush will deliver his first State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress this evening. Eerily, tonight's setting recalls the similar challenges confronting the president's father, George H.W. Bush, when he delivered his State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 1991, exactly 11 years ago.
Although homeland security was not at issue in 1991, President Bush, having also assembled a fragile international coalition, was waging the Persian Gulf War against Iraq while the U.S. economy was mired in recession. In contrast to the bipartisan support for today's war against terrorism, the elder Bush met stiff resistance from congressional Democrats, the vast majority of whom (including Sen. Tom Daschle, today's Senate majority leader, and Dick Gephardt, today's House minority leader) opposed the use of force to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Apart from their support for today's war, however, Messrs. Daschle and Gephardt have been waging fiercely partisan attacks while preparing to challenge Mr. Bush directly for the presidency. Thus, the speech Mr. Bush delivers tonight, addressing the nation on the grave business of war and peace, will unavoidably also represent a major White House offensive in the political battles that will be fought between now and November 2004.
The president's agenda is worthy of the times. As he has signaled in recent days, Mr. Bush will make clear that his three highest priorities for the coming year will be the war on terrorism, homeland defense and the U.S. economy. Mr. Bush's fiscal 2003 budget will include a $48 billion increase in defense expenditures as the Pentagon simultaneously wages war, transforms itself for the 21st century and rebuilds the capabilities that were lost during the "procurement holiday" of the previous decade. Mr. Bush will also propose doubling to $38 billion the homeland security budget, rightly emphasizing the role of the "first responders," including firefighters, police and emergency medical personnel. Regarding the economy, however, Mr. Bush should make clear that he will approve only an economic stimulus package that actually increases the economic pie, as opposed to only redistributing its slices, as Mr. Daschle's unacceptable "compromise" would do.
Beyond the war on terrorism, other foreign-policy priorities for the next year include NATO's expansion; the resumption of a long-delayed round of trade negotiations, which need to be facilitated by Congress' passage of trade-promotion authority; and the accelerated pursuit of national missile defense.
On the domestic front, Mr. Bush should exhort Mr. Daschle to introduce a modicum of fairness to the Senate's role in the nomination process for judges and policy-makers. Surely, timely hearings and up-or-down votes are not too much to ask. Meanwhile, on the crucial energy front, it would be worth acknowledging that the United States is engaged in its second war since the early 1990s, whose cause can, at least in part, be directly related to our unhealthy overdependence upon Middle East oil. The president should make clear that increased domestic oil and gas production, especially in the very promising Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, represents an absolutely necessary if, admittedly, insufficient response to the nation's growing energy problems.
Having been warned on Sept. 20 by Mr. Bush in his first speech before a joint session of Congress to expect "a lengthy campaign [against terrorism] unlike any other we have ever seen," the American people will want to know who will be the next target and why. Mr. Bush might well consider quoting from his father's address delivered 11 years ago. "Most Americans" if not the Democratic leadership "know we had to stop Saddam now, not later," the first President Bush told Congress that night. "They know that this brutal dictator will do anything, will use any weapon, will commit any outrage, no matter how many innocents suffer." It was true then. And it is true today. Tonight would be an ideal time for Mr. Bush to announce that he will finish the job begun by his father and for the same reasons.

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