- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

Excerpts from President Bush’s State of the Union address, as prepared for delivery last night to a joint session of Congress:

As a new Congress gathers, all of us in the elected branches of government share a great privilege: We have been placed in office by the votes of the people we serve. And tonight that is a privilege we share with newly elected leaders of Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Ukraine and a free and sovereign Iraq.

Two weeks ago, I stood on the steps of this Capitol and renewed the commitment of our nation to the guiding ideal of liberty for all. This evening, I will set forth policies to advance that ideal at home and around the world.

Tonight, with a healthy, growing economy, with more Americans going back to work, with our nation an active force for good in the world — the state of our union is confident and strong. …

Over the next several months, on issue after issue, let us do what Americans have always done, and build a better world for our children and grandchildren.

First, we must be good stewards of this economy, and renew the great institutions on which millions of our fellow citizens rely.

America’s economy is the fastest growing of any major industrialized nation. In the past four years, we have provided tax relief to every person who pays income taxes, overcome a recession, opened up new markets abroad, prosecuted corporate criminals, raised homeownership to the highest level in history, and in the last year alone, the United States has added 2.3 million new jobs. When action was needed, the Congress delivered — and the nation is grateful. …

America’s prosperity requires restraining the spending appetite of the federal government. I welcome the bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline. So, next week, I will send you a budget that holds the growth of discretionary spending below inflation, makes tax relief permanent and stays on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. My budget substantially reduces or eliminates more than 150 government programs that are not getting results, or duplicate current efforts, or do not fulfill essential priorities. The principle here is clear: A taxpayer dollar must be spent wisely, or not at all.

To make our economy stronger and more dynamic, we must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, standards are higher, test scores are on the rise, and we are closing the achievement gap for minority students. Now we must demand better results from our high schools, so every high school diploma is a ticket to success. We will help an additional 200,000 workers to get training for a better career, by reforming our job-training system and strengthening America’s community colleges. And we will make it easier for Americans to afford a college education, by increasing the size of Pell grants.

‘Reward, not punish’

To make our economy stronger and more competitive, America must reward, not punish, the efforts and dreams of entrepreneurs. Small business is the path of advancement, especially for women and minorities, so we must free small businesses from needless regulation and protect honest job creators from junk lawsuits. Justice is distorted, and our economy is held back, by irresponsible class actions and frivolous asbestos claims — and I urge Congress to pass legal reforms this year.

To make our economy stronger and more productive, we must make health care more affordable, and give families greater access to good coverage and more control over 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.

To keep our economy growing, we also need reliable supplies of affordable, environmentally responsible energy. …

To build the prosperity of future generations, we must update institutions that were created to meet the needs of an earlier time. Year after year, Americans are burdened by an archaic, incoherent federal tax code. I have appointed a bipartisan panel to examine the tax code from top to bottom. …

America’s immigration system is also outdated — unsuited to the needs of our economy and to the values of our country. 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. 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.

One of America’s most important institutions — a symbol of the trust between generations — is also in need of wise and effective reform. …

Today, more than 45 million Americans receive Social Security benefits, and millions more are nearing retirement — and for them the system is strong and fiscally sound. I have a message for every American who is 55 or older: Do not let anyone mislead you. For you, the Social Security system will not change in any way.

‘Serious problems’

For younger workers, the Social Security system has serious problems that will grow worse with time. Social Security was created decades ago, for a very different era. In those days people didn’t live as long, benefits were much lower than they are today, and a half-century ago, about 16 workers paid into the system for each person drawing benefits. … In today’s world, people are living longer and therefore drawing benefits longer — and those benefits are scheduled to rise dramatically over the next few decades. And instead of 16 workers paying in for every beneficiary, right now it’s only about three workers — and over the next few decades, that number will fall to just two workers per beneficiary. With each passing year, fewer workers are paying ever-higher benefits to an ever-larger number of retirees. …

Thirteen years from now, in 2018, Social Security will be paying out more than it takes in. … By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt. 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.

I recognize that 2018 and 2042 may seem like a long way off. But those dates are not so distant, as any parent will tell you. If you have a 5-year-old, you’re already concerned about how you’ll pay for college tuition 13 years down the road. If you’ve got children in their 20s, as some of us do, the idea of Social Security collapsing before they retire does not seem like a small matter. And it should not be a small matter to the United States Congress.

You and I share a responsibility. We must pass reforms that solve the financial problems of Social Security once and for all.

Fixing Social Security permanently will require an open, candid review of the options. Some have suggested limiting benefits for wealthy retirees. Former [Rep.] Tim Penny [Minnesota Democrat] has raised the possibility of indexing benefits to prices rather than wages. During the 1990s, my predecessor, President Clinton, spoke of increasing the retirement age. Former Sen. John Breaux [Louisiana Democrat] suggested discouraging early collection of Social Security benefits. The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan [New York Democrat] recommended changing the way benefits are calculated.

All these ideas are on the table. I know that none of these reforms would be easy. But we have to move ahead with courage and honesty, because our children’s retirement security is more important than partisan politics. …

As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts. …

‘A better deal’

Here is why personal accounts are a better deal. Your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver — and your account will provide money for retirement over and above the check you will receive from Social Security. In addition, you’ll be able to pass along the money that accumulates in your personal account, if you wish, to your children or grandchildren. And best of all, the money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away. …

Our second great responsibility to our children and grandchildren is to honor and to pass along the values that sustain a free society. So many of my generation, after a long journey, have come home to family and faith, and are determined to bring up responsible, moral children. Government is not the source of these values, but government should never undermine them.

Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be redefined by activist judges. For the good of families, children and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage.

Because a society is measured by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, we must strive to build a culture of life. … I will work with Congress to ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation or grown for body parts, and that human life is never bought and sold as a commodity. …

Because courts must always deliver impartial justice, judges have a duty to faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench. As president, I have a constitutional responsibility to nominate men and women who understand the role of courts in our democracy, and are well-qualified to serve on the bench — and I have done so. The Constitution also gives the Senate a responsibility: Every judicial nominee deserves an up-or-down vote. …

Our third responsibility to future generations is to leave them an America that is safe from danger, and protected by peace. We will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy — and chief among them is freedom from fear.

In the 3 years since September 11, 2001, we have taken unprecedented actions to protect Americans. …

Our nation, working with allies and friends, has also confronted the enemy abroad, with measures that are determined, successful, and continuing. The al Qaeda terror network that attacked our country still has leaders — but many of its top commanders have been removed. There are still governments that sponsor and harbor terrorists — but their number has declined. There are still regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction — but no longer without attention and without consequence.

‘On the offensive’

Our country is still the target of terrorists who want to kill many, and intimidate us all — and we will stay on the offensive against them, until the fight is won. …

The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom. Our enemies know this, and that is why the terrorist [Abu Musab] Zarqawi recently declared war on what he called the “evil principle” of democracy. And we have declared our own intention: 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 in our world.

The United States has no right, no desire and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else. That is one of the main differences between us and our enemies. They seek to impose and expand an empire of oppression, in which a tiny group of brutal, self-appointed rulers control every aspect of every life. Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens, and reflect their own cultures. And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace.

That advance has great momentum in our time — shown by women voting in Afghanistan, and Palestinians choosing a new direction, and the people of Ukraine asserting their democratic rights and electing a president. …

The beginnings of reform and democracy in the Palestinian territories are showing the power of freedom to break old patterns of violence and failure. Tomorrow morning, Secretary of State [Condoleezza] Rice departs on a trip that will take her to Israel and the West Bank for meetings with [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon and [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas. She will discuss with them how we and our friends can help the Palestinian people end terror and build the institutions of a peaceful, independent democratic state. … 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. …

Today, Iran remains the world’s primary state sponsor of terror — pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. 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 reprocessing, 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.

‘A vital front’

Our generational commitment to the advance of freedom, especially in the Middle East, is now being tested and honored in Iraq. That country is a vital front in the war on terror, which is why the terrorists have chosen to make a stand there. …

We will succeed because the Iraqi people value their own liberty — as they showed the world last Sunday. Across Iraq, often at great risk, millions of citizens went to the polls and elected 275 men and women to represent them in a new transitional national assembly. …

One of Iraq’s leading democracy and human rights advocates is Safia Taleb al-Suhail. She says of her country, “We were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. … Thank you to the American people who paid the cost … but most of all to the soldiers.” Eleven years ago, Safia’s father was assassinated by Saddam’s intelligence service. Three days ago in Baghdad, Safia was finally able to vote for the leaders of her country — and we are honored that she is with us tonight.

The terrorists and insurgents are violently opposed to democracy, and will continue to attack it. Yet the terrorists’ most powerful myth is being destroyed. The whole world is seeing that the car bombers and assassins are not only fighting coalition forces, they are trying to destroy the hopes of Iraqis, expressed in free elections. And the whole world now knows that a small group of extremists will not overturn the will of the Iraqi people.

We will succeed in Iraq because Iraqis are determined to fight for their own freedom, and to write their own history. …

Recently an Iraqi interpreter said to a reporter, “Tell America not to abandon us.” He and all Iraqis can be certain: While our military strategy is adapting to circumstances, our commitment remains firm and unchanging. We are standing for the freedom of our Iraqi friends, and freedom in Iraq will make America safer for generations to come. We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out. We are in Iraq to achieve a result: a country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself. And when that result is achieved, our men and women serving in Iraq will return home with the honor they have earned.

Right now, Americans in uniform are serving at posts across the world, often taking great risks on my orders. … Some of our servicemen and women have survived terrible injuries, and this grateful country will do everything we can to help them recover. And we have said farewell to some very good men and women, who died for our freedom, and whose memory this nation will honor forever.

‘On the front line’

One name we honor is Marine Corps Sgt. Byron Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, who was killed during the assault on Fallujah. His mom, Janet, sent me a letter and told me how much Byron loved being a Marine, and how proud he was to be on the front line against terror. She wrote, “When Byron was home the last time, I said that I wanted to protect him like I had since he was born. He just hugged me and said: ‘You’ve done your job, mom. Now it’s my turn to protect you.’” Ladies and gentlemen, with grateful hearts, we honor freedom’s defenders, and our military families, represented here this evening by Sgt. Norwood’s mom and dad, Janet and Bill Norwood.

In these four years, Americans have seen the unfolding of large events. We have known times of sorrow, and hours of uncertainty, and days of victory. In all this history, even when we have disagreed, we have seen threads of purpose that unite us. The attack on freedom in our world has reaffirmed our confidence in freedom’s power to change the world. We are all part of a great venture: to extend the promise of freedom in our country, to renew the values that sustain our liberty, and to spread the peace that freedom brings.

As Franklin Roosevelt once reminded Americans, “Each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth.” And we live in the country where the biggest dreams are born.

The abolition of slavery was only a dream — until it was fulfilled.

The liberation of Europe from fascism was only a dream — until it was achieved.

The fall of imperial communism was only a dream — until, one day, it was accomplished.

Our generation has dreams of its own, and we also go forward with confidence. The road of Providence is uneven and unpredictable — yet we know where it leads: It leads to freedom.

Thank you, and may God bless America.

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