In the last three years, adversity has also revealed the fundamental
strengths of the American economy. We have come through recession,
and terrorist attack, and corporate scandals, and the uncertainties
of war. And because you acted to stimulate our economy with tax
relief, this economy is strong, and growing stronger. (Applause.)
You have doubled the child tax credit from 0 to ,000, reduced
the marriage penalty, begun to phase out the death tax, reduced
taxes on capital gains and stock dividends, cut taxes on small
businesses, and you have lowered taxes for every American who
pays income taxes.
Americans took those dollars and put them to work, driving this
economy forward. The pace of economic growth in the third quarter
of 2003 was the fastest in nearly 20 years; new home construction,
the highest in almost 20 years; home ownership rates, the highest
ever. Manufacturing activity is increasing. Inflation is low.
Interest rates are low. Exports are growing. Productivity is high,
and jobs are on the rise. (Applause.)
These numbers confirm that the American people are using their
money far better than government would have -- and you were right
to return it. (Applause.)
America's growing economy is also a changing economy. As technology
transforms the way almost every job is done, America becomes more
productive, and workers need new skills. Much of our job growth
will be found in high-skilled fields like health care and biotechnology.
So we must respond by helping more Americans gain the skills to
find good jobs in our new economy.
All skills begin with the basics of reading and math, which are
supposed to be learned in the early grades of our schools. Yet
for too long, for too many children, those skills were never mastered.
By passing the No Child Left Behind Act, you have made the expectation
of literacy the law of our country. We're providing more funding
for our schools -- a 36-percent increase since 2001. We're requiring
higher standards. We are regularly testing every child on the
fundamentals. We are reporting results to parents, and making
sure they have better options when schools are not performing.
We are making progress toward excellence for every child in America.
But the status quo always has defenders. Some want to undermine
the No Child Left Behind Act by weakening standards and accountability.
Yet the results we require are really a matter of common sense:
We expect third graders to read and do math at the third grade
level -- and that's not asking too much. Testing is the only way
to identify and help students who are falling behind. This nation
will not go back to the days of simply shuffling children along
from grade to grade without them learning the basics. I refuse
to give up on any child -- and the No Child Left Behind Act is
opening the door of opportunity to all of America's children.
At the same time, we must ensure that older students and adults
can gain the skills they need to find work now. Many of the fastest
growing occupations require strong math and science preparation,
and training beyond the high school level. So tonight, I propose
a series of measures called Jobs for the 21st Century. This program
will provide extra help to middle and high school students who
fall behind in reading and math, expand advanced placement programs
in low-income schools, invite math and science professionals from
the private sector to teach part-time in our high schools. I propose
larger Pell grants for students who prepare for college with demanding
courses in high school. (Applause.) I propose increasing our support
for America's fine community colleges, so they can -- (applause.)
I do so, so they can train workers for industries that are creating
the most new jobs. By all these actions, we'll help more and more
Americans to join in the growing prosperity of our country. Job
training is important, and so is job creation.
We must continue to pursue an aggressive, pro-growth economic
agenda. (Applause.) Congress has some unfinished business on the
issue of taxes. The tax reductions you passed are set to expire.
Unless you act -- (applause) -- unless you act -- unless you act,
the unfair tax on marriage will go back up. Unless you act, millions
of families will be charged 0 more in federal taxes for every
child. Unless you act, small businesses will pay higher taxes.
Unless you act, the death tax will eventually come back to life.
Unless you act, Americans face a tax increase. What Congress has
given, the Congress should not take away. For the sake of job
growth, the tax cuts you passed should be permanent. (Applause.)
Our agenda for jobs and growth must help small business owners
and employees with relief from needless federal regulation, and
protect them from junk and frivolous lawsuits. (Applause.)
Consumers and businesses need reliable supplies of energy to
make our economy run -- so I urge you to pass legislation to modernize
our electricity system, promote conservation, and make America
less dependent on foreign sources of energy. (Applause.)
My administration is promoting free and fair trade to open up
new markets for America's entrepreneurs and manufacturers and
farmers -- to create jobs for American workers. Younger workers
should have the opportunity to build a nest egg by saving part
of their Social Security taxes in a personal retirement account.
(Applause.) We should make the Social Security system a source
of ownership for the American people. (Applause.) And we should
limit the burden of government on this economy by acting as good
stewards of taxpayers' dollars. (Applause.)
In two weeks, I will send you a budget that funds the war, protects
the homeland, and meets important domestic needs, while limiting
the growth in discretionary spending to less than 4 percent. (Applause.)
This will require that Congress focus on priorities, cut wasteful
spending, and be wise with the people's money. By doing so, we
can cut the deficit in half over the next five years. (Applause.)
Tonight, I also ask you to reform our immigration laws so they
reflect our values and benefit our economy. I propose a new temporary
worker program to match willing foreign workers with willing employers
when no Americans can be found to fill the job. This reform will
be good for our economy because employers will find needed workers
in an honest and orderly system. A temporary worker program will
help protect our homeland, allowing Border Patrol and law enforcement
to focus on true threats to our national security.
I oppose amnesty, because it would encourage further illegal
immigration, and unfairly reward those who break our laws. My
temporary worker program will preserve the citizenship path for
those who respect the law, while bringing millions of hardworking
men and women out from the shadows of American life. (Applause.)
Our nation's health care system, like our economy, is also in
a time of change. Amazing medical technologies are improving and
saving lives. This dramatic progress has brought its own challenge,
in the rising costs of medical care and health insurance. Members
of Congress, we must work together to help control those costs
and extend the benefits of modern medicine throughout our country.
Meeting these goals requires bipartisan effort, and two months
ago, you showed the way. By strengthening Medicare and adding
a prescription drug benefit, you kept a basic commitment to our
seniors: You are giving them the modern medicine they deserve.
Starting this year, under the law you passed, seniors can choose
to receive a drug discount card, saving them 10 to 25 percent
off the retail price of most prescription drugs -- and millions
of low-income seniors can get an additional 0 to buy medicine.
Beginning next year, seniors will have new coverage for preventive
screenings against diabetes and heart disease, and seniors just
entering Medicare can receive wellness exams.
In January of 2006, seniors can get prescription drug coverage
under Medicare. For a monthly premium of about , most seniors
who do not have that coverage today can expect to see their drug
bills cut roughly in half. Under this reform, senior citizens
will be able to keep their Medicare just as it is, or they can
choose a Medicare plan that fits them best -- just as you, as
members of Congress, can choose an insurance plan that meets your
needs. And starting this year, millions of Americans will be able
to save money tax-free for their medical expenses in a health
savings account. (Applause.)
I signed this measure proudly, and any attempt to limit the choices
of our seniors, or to take away their prescription drug coverage
under Medicare, will meet my veto. (Applause.)
On the critical issue of health care, our goal is to ensure that
Americans can choose and afford private health care coverage that
best fits their individual needs. To make insurance more affordable,
Congress must act to address rapidly rising health care costs.
Small businesses should be able to band together and negotiate
for lower insurance rates, so they can cover more workers with
health insurance. I urge you to pass association health plans.
(Applause.) I ask you to give lower-income Americans a refundable
tax credit that would allow millions to buy their own basic health
By computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical
mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care. To protect the doctor-patient
relationship, and keep good doctors doing good work, we must eliminate
wasteful and frivolous medical lawsuits. (Applause.) And tonight
I propose that individuals who buy catastrophic health care coverage,
as part of our new health savings accounts, be allowed to deduct
100 percent of the premiums from their taxes. (Applause.)
A government-run health care system is the wrong prescription.
(Applause.) By keeping costs under control, expanding access,
and helping more Americans afford coverage, we will preserve the
system of private medicine that makes America's health care the
best in the world. (Applause.)
We are living in a time of great change -- in our world, in our
economy, in science and medicine. Yet some things endure -- courage
and compassion, reverence and integrity, respect for differences
of faith and race. The values we try to live by never change.
And they are instilled in us by fundamental institutions, such
as families and schools and religious congregations. These institutions,
these unseen pillars of civilization, must remain strong in America,
and we will defend them. We must stand with our families to help
them raise healthy, responsible children. When it comes to helping
children make right choices, there is work for all of us to do.
One of the worst decisions our children can make is to gamble
their lives and futures on drugs. Our government is helping parents
confront this problem with aggressive education, treatment, and
law enforcement. Drug use in high school has declined by 11 percent
over the last two years. Four hundred thousand fewer young people
are using illegal drugs than in the year 2001. (Applause.) In
my budget, I proposed new funding to continue our aggressive,
community-based strategy to reduce demand for illegal drugs. Drug
testing in our schools has proven to be an effective part of this
effort. So tonight I proposed an additional million for schools
that want to use drug testing as a tool to save children's lives.
The aim here is not to punish children, but to send them this
message: We love you, and we don't want to lose you. (Applause.)
To help children make right choices, they need good examples.
Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately,
some in professional sports are not setting much of an example.
The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball,
football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong
message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that
performance is more important than character. So tonight I call
on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to
take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to
get rid of steroids now. (Applause.)
To encourage right choices, we must be willing to confront the
dangers young people face -- even when they're difficult to talk
about. Each year, about 3 million teenagers contract sexually-transmitted
diseases that can harm them, or kill them, or prevent them from
ever becoming parents. In my budget, I propose a grassroots campaign
to help inform families about these medical risks. We will double
federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach
this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain
way to avoid sexually-transmitted diseases. (Applause.)
Decisions children now make can affect their health and character
for the rest of their lives. All of us -- parents and schools
and government -- must work together to counter the negative influence
of the culture, and to send the right messages to our children.
For all Americans, the last three years have brought tests we
did not ask for, and achievements shared by all. By our actions,
we have shown what kind of nation we are. In grief, we have found
the grace to go on. In challenge, we rediscovered the courage
and daring of a free people. In victory, we have shown the noble
aims and good heart of America. And having come this far, we sense
that we live in a time set apart.
I've been witness to the character of the people of America,
who have shown calm in times of danger, compassion for one another,
and toughness for the long haul. All of us have been partners
in a great enterprise. And even some of the youngest understand
that we are living in historic times. Last month a girl in Lincoln,
Rhode Island, sent me a letter. It began, "Dear George W.
Bush. If there's anything you know, I, Ashley Pearson, age 10,
can do to help anyone, please send me a letter and tell me what
I can do to save our country." She added this P.S.: "If
you can send a letter to the troops, please put, 'Ashley Pearson
believes in you.'" (Applause.)
Tonight, Ashley, your message to our troops has just been conveyed.
And, yes, you have some duties yourself. Study hard in school,
listen to your mom or dad, help someone in need, and when you
and your friends see a man or woman in uniform, say, "thank
you." (Applause.) And, Ashley, while you do your part, all
of us here in this great chamber will do our best to keep you
and the rest of America safe and free. (Applause.)
My fellow citizens, we now move forward, with confidence and
faith. Our nation is strong and steadfast. The cause we serve
is right, because it is the cause of all mankind.