Opportunities and challenges

Whether it is in public-opinion polls, focus groups or news interviews, or just from talking to people on the street, it is clear that Americans want change in Washington.

Under the leadership of President Bush, the Republican Party has worked to enact a wide-ranging reform agenda, transforming government for the challenges our families face today and will face tomorrow. But there is still much to do, and Republicans remain committed to reforming Washington to meet better these challenges and the opportunities that come with them.

To win the war on terror, we are reaffirming our commitment to peace through strength. For a generation — from the Munich Olympics in 1972 to the attack on the Marines in Beirut in 1983 to the attacks on our embassies in the 1990s — terrorists have made war on free nations. Until Sept. 12, 2001, the terrorists never had to fear war in return. Now they do, and in 2005 we made important progress in this war.

We are disrupting terror networks, working to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of outlaw regimes, fighting to end state support for terrorists and spreading freedom. In 2005, we saw more Iraqi troops fighting alongside Americans, often taking the lead in defeating the terrorists in their nation.

And by taking on the terrorists’ challenge, we are seizing the opportunity to promote freedom in places it never existed before. Despite the terrorist threat, Iraqis approved their own constitution and will soon elect their first democratic government. Afghanistan elected its first-ever parliament. And we saw freedom spread throughout the world, in Ukraine and with elections in the Palestinian territories, Kuwait, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon, and Libya has surrendered its nuclear ambitions.

More work remains to be done, including at home. We must reauthorize the Patriot Act. And we must improve our border security because if we’re not controlling who comes into our nation we can’t protect the homeland.

We also must continue to fight the terrorists in Iraq. We know — based on an intercepted letter — that they are depending on us to cut and run. But we will not hand them that victory. American troops will return home, as Iraqi forces continue to take control of the battle against the terrorists.

At home, we’ve also faced new tests, once again transforming Washington to make challenges into opportunities. In a world where China and India are competing for American jobs, we must reduce taxation, regulation and litigation to protect our workers. In 2005, we saw this strategy working with continued strong economic growth and job creation that has now added 4.2 million jobs since May 2003.

It’s why we passed class-action reform and reduced red tape in 2005 and are now working to extend tax relief for working families. A global economy also required an energy strategy, which we now have for the first time in more than a decade.

To stay competitive, we passed the Central America Free Trade Agreement and legislation reforming outdated bankruptcy laws this year. We are continuing to reform education, resulting in record test scores for our students and a shrinking minority achievement gap. We are tackling high healthcare costs, and minority homeownership rates remain at close to record highs.

We reduced the deficit by nearly $100 billion, to 2.6 percent of our national gross domestic product, and the House and Senate just passed bills to reduce it by billions more to help offset emergency spending in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And, as we rebuild the Gulf Coast after that tremendous disaster, we are working for more effective ways to help families in need, replacing a failed welfare state with ownership and opportunity.

We made important progress in restoring the courts’ proper place in our democracy in 2005 by confirming John Roberts as chief justice of the United States, by seating five judges in federal courts who were filibustered in the last Congress, and by nominating Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O’Connor. We will continue to work for judges who respect their proper role: to interpret the law and protect the Constitution, not legislate from the bench.

We are now halfway through the first decade of the 21st century, and we have done much to transform government to face the challenges of this new era. The American people want change and reform, and from national security to the economy to education to immigration the Republican Party will continue to work to change Washington and deliver that reform.

Mehlman is the chairman of the Republican National Committee.