- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) — President George W. Bush on Tuesday in his State of the Union address reassured an American public nervous about an unsteady U.S. economy and rising unemployment that the nation would face its problems with focus, clarity and courage.

"During this session of Congress, we have the duty to reform domestic programs vital to our country … and we have the opportunity to save millions of lives abroad from a terrible disease.

"We will work for a prosperity that is broadly shared … and we will answer every danger and every enemy that threatens the American people," Bush said in his opening remarks.

Bush stepped before Congress and delivered his 42-minute speech as the United States faced a possible war with Iraq, unemployment hovers at 6 percent and the administration continues its pursuit of those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

He made his remarks knowing that Americans' exuberance about the Bush administration has subsided and their concern about the economy has surged. He called the economy the nation's first goal and said that federal spending should not rise faster than the paychecks of American families.

The White House Budget Office has estimated federal budget shortfalls between $200 billion and $300 billion.

Two weeks ago, Bush proposed a $675 billion economic stimulus package to help reduce unemployment. Individual states are struggling with massive budget shortfalls that lawmakers say will likely result in severe service cuts, particularly to education and Medicaid programs.

Should the U.S. military take action in Iraq, Bush could face a parallel with the administration of President Lyndon Johnson who in the 1960s fought both a war in Vietnam and a war on poverty at home. Analysts say Johnson likely overstressed the federal budget by doing so.

While the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of deploying troops into the Gulf would be between $9 billion and $13 billion, and that prosecuting a war would cost between $6 billion and $9 billion a month, it is unclear what impact higher defense spending would have on Bush's domestic priorities.

Bush said the economy is recovering, but that it was important to have an economy that grows fast enough to employ every man and woman who seeks a job.

Last year, the president signed a 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut package into law that he called "the largest tax relief passed in a generation." On Tuesday, Bush proposed making his income tax reductions set for 2004 and 2006 permanent, effective this year. He proposed abolition of the marriage penalty and a child tax credit hike to $1,000, both effective immediately.

"Jobs are created when the economy grows; the economy grows when Americans have more money to spend and invest; and the best fairest way to make sure Americans have that money is not to tax it away in the first place," Bush said.

A family of four with an income of $40,000 would see their federal income taxes fall from $1,178 to $45 per year, the president said.

Bush proposed an end to taxes on shareholder dividends as a way to boost investor confidence. While he said it was fair to tax a corporation's profits, it was not fair to tax the shareholder on the same profits.

In what is likely to be the only real surprise in Bush's address, he vowed to set aside $1.2 billion in research funding to develop hydrogen-powered cars. With a new national commitment, Bush said, scientists and engineers will be able to overcome obstacles to take these cars from laboratory to showroom so that the "first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution-free."

He also said he has proposed Clear Skies legislation that will mandate a 70 percent reduction in air pollution from power plants over the next 15 years.

Citing affordable health care another goal, Bush proposed setting aside $400 billion over the next 10 years to reform Medicare and give seniors a prescription drug plan.

"We must review that commitment by giving seniors access to the preventative medicine and new drugs that are transforming healthcare in America," Bush said.

The Bush White House has estimated 77 million Americans would be in Medicare by 2030. The administration last year proposed a Medicare Rx Drug Card Program that would provide pharmacy discounts to seniors. The initiative would secure manufacturer rebates and pass them on through to pharmacies and beneficiaries, resulting in lower prices.

Democrats have opposed the plan in favor of a government-administered plan requiring a $25 monthly premium payment.

Bush urged Congress to pass medical liability reform in an effort to address the escalating malpractice insurance crisis among physicians, some of whom have walked off their jobs in protest of skyrocketing premiums.

He said a national healthcare plan was not the answer, but rather a system that put doctors, nurses and patients in charge instead of insurance companies and trial lawyers.

"No one has ever been healed by a frivolous lawsuit," Bush said.

On Monday, some 800 doctors in Florida walked off their jobs to protest malpractice insurance premiums, a month after West Virginia doctors did the same to draw attention to their plight. Doctors, particularly those in high-risk specialties such as obstetrics and trauma, have seen their premiums double or triple in recent years, causing some of them to quit practicing.

In his speech Bush put forth his "compassionate conservatism" platform urging Congress to pass his faith-based initiative and Citizen Service Act. He proposed $450 million for a mentoring program for children of prison inmates, $$600 million to help 300,000 people receive drug treatment over the next three years.

"By caring for children who need mentors and for addicted men and women who need treatment, we are building a more welcoming society — a culture that values every life," Bush said.

He also called for a ban on late-term abortions, saying the nation must not overlook "the weakest among us." He also urged Congress to ban human cloning because "no human life should be started or ended as the object of an experiment."

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