US President George W. Bush waves as he is applauded before
delivering his annual State of the Union address to a joint session of
Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, January 23, 2007.
Washington - A politically
weakened President Bush implored a skeptical Congress Tuesday night to embrace
his unpopular plan to send more US troops to Iraq, saying it represents the best
hope in a war America must not lose. "Give it a chance to work," he said.
Facing a political showdown with Democrats and
Republicans alike, Bush was unyielding on Iraq in his annual State of the Union
address [read full text]
. He also sought to
revive his troubled presidency with proposals to expand health insurance
coverage and to slash gasoline consumption by 20 percent in a decade.
Democrats, and even some Republicans, scoffed at his Iraq policy. Unmoved by
Bush's appeal, Democrats said the House and Senate would vote on resolutions of
disapproval of the troop buildup.
"We need a new direction," said freshman Sen. Jim Webb, picked by the
Democrats to deliver their TV response. "The majority of the nation no longer
supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our
military," said Webb, a Vietnam veteran opposed to Bush's invasion of Iraq.
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, also took issue with Bush. "I
can't tell you what the path to success is, but it's not what the president has
put on the table," he said.
It was a night of political theater as Bush went before the first
Democratic-controlled Congress in a dozen years with his lowest approval ratings
Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, the first woman to lead the
House, sat over Bush's shoulder, next to Vice President Dick Cheney. Reaching
out to the Democrats, Bush opened with a tribute to Pelosi and paused to shake
her hand. He also asked for prayers for Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson,
hospitalized for more than a month after suffering a brain hemorrhage, and
Republican Georgia Rep. Charlie Norwood, suffering from cancer.
The speech audience included up to a dozen House and Senate members who have
announced they are running for president or are considered possible contenders.
Bush divided his 49-minute address between domestic and foreign issues, but
the war was topic No. 1.
Pelosi set the tone for Democrats. She sat silently and did not applaud as
Bush warned of high stakes in Iraq and said American forces must not step back
before Baghdad is secure.
With Congress poised to deliver a stinging rebuke on his troop increase, he
made a personal plea to lawmakers.
"I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments
you made," Bush said. "We went into this largely united, in our assumptions and
in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure."
"Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq and I ask you to give it a
chance to work," Bush said. "And I ask you to support our troops in the field
and those on their way."
Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave Bush a swift answer. "While
the president continues to ignore the will of the country, Congress will not
ignore this president's failed policy," they said in a joint statement after his
address. "His plan will receive an up-or-down vote in both the House and Senate,
and we will continue to hold him accountable for changing course in Iraq."
Bush said the Iraq war had changed dramatically with the outbreak of
sectarian warfare and reprisals.
"This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in,"
the president said. "Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. Yet
it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned and
our own security at risk.
"Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our
power to shape the outcome of this battle," the president said. "Let us find our
resolve and turn events toward victory."
Key Republicans have joined Democrats in drafting resolutions of opposition
to the plans he announced two weeks ago to send an additional 21,500 troops to
Iraq. Bush said his approach had the best chance to succeed, but clearly many
lawmakers, and overwhelming majority of Americans, disagreed.
"Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq because
you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far
reaching," the president said. "If American forces step back before Baghdad is
secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides."
In such a case, he forecast "an epic battle," Shiite extremists backed by
Iran against Sunni extremists aided by al-Qaida and supporters of Saddam
Hussein's government, leading to violence that could spread across the Middle
East. "For America, this is a nightmare scenario," Bush said.
On domestic matters, he pressed Congress to help find ways to overhaul
entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid before they impose
huge problems for future generations.
"Somehow we have not found it in ourselves to act," he said. "So let us work
together and do it now."
On immigration, too, the president made a plea to lawmakers that he has made
before, seeking comprehensive changes including a guest worker program, that go
beyond tougher border controls. Members of his own party were the main obstacle
to success in that area, a fact Bush acknowledged even as he pressed for a
better result now than Capitol Hill is run by Democrats more amenable to his
"Convictions run deep in this Capitol when it comes to immigration," he said.
"Let us have a serious, civil and conclusive debate."
Bush said his energy proposals would cut American imports by the equivalent
of 75 percent of the oil coming from the Middle East. His prescription, as
always, relied primarily on market incentives and technological advances, not
"America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us
to live our lives less dependent on oil," he said. "These technologies will help
us become better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront
the serious challenge of global climate change."
Bush called for changing the tax code to encourage more people not covered by
medical insurance to buy a plan, and to discourage others from keeping the most
costly health care plans.
Under Bush's proposal, employer-financed health care benefits would be
considered taxable income after a deduction of $15,000 for families and $7,500
for individuals. Those buying their own plan would get the same deductions on
The White House said 80 percent of workers with health insurance through
their jobs would see a tax cut as a result of the change. But about 20 percent
would see a tax increase ¡ª those workers whose health insurance cost more than
the standard deduction.
"With this reform, more than 100 million men, women and children who are now
covered by employer-provided insurance will benefit from lower tax bills," Bush
said. "At the same time, this reform will level the playing field for those who
do not get health insurance through their job."
The administration sought to make Bush's energy initiatives, in particular a
20 percent cut in gasoline usage by 2017, an eye-catching centerpiece of his
address, the one major element not revealed until hours before the speech. "It
is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply, and the way
forward is through technology," Bush said.
The cut would be achieved primarily through a sharp escalation in the amount
of ethanol and other alternative fuels that the government mandates must be
blended into the fuel supply. The rest would come from raising fuel economy
standards for passenger cars, a plan that Bush has proposed in the past but
failed to win from Congress.
Acknowledging that some would say such a drastic increase in alternative
fuels is unrealistic, the White House argued that the new mandate, which would
need approval from Congress, would spur investments in the industry and give
technological research a boost.
While setting cutback goals, the president spurned appeals from
environmentalists and some major corporations to impose mandatory ceilings on US
greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of slowing climate change.