Bush seeks to reassure nation on the economy

In his final State of the Union address, President Bush Monday night sought to assure the nation that the economy is on sound footing in the long run, and praised House leaders for passing legislation to spur growth in the short term.

Bush warned the Senate to not risk delaying or derailing the measure by trying to make “load up the bill.”

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The president acknowledged that “at kitchen tables across our country, there is concern about our economic future,” and offered tax cuts as the solution. He argued that making his tax cuts permanent would eliminate uncertainty and spare Americans from a large tax increase when his temporary cuts expire.

“Some in Washington argue that letting tax relief expire is not a tax increase,” Bush said. “Try explaining that to 116 million American taxpayers who would see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800.”

In one of the lighter moments of the address, Bush added, “Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm, and I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders.”

Bush pledged that his administration would do its part by eliminating or reducing 151 government programs and saving $18 billion in the process. In addition, the president said he would do his part to reduce congressional earmarks, arguing that such spending items undermine the “people’s trust in government.”

On other domestic issues, Bush also challenged members of Congress to offer their proposal on how to fix, in a bipartisan way, the entitlement programs that are “growing faster than we can afford.”

The president also discussed immigration, calling it another “pressing challenge” that is complicated but can be resolved.

Bush noted that his administration is boosting border security, but added that “we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy.”

In the second part of his speech, Bush turned to foreign policy and touted the success of the troop surge.

“While the enemy is still dangerous and more work remains, the American and Iraqi surges have achieved results few of us could have imagined just 1 year ago,” Bush said, adding, “Some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated.”

Despite the successes, the president noted that “tough fighting” is still ahead.

“Our objective in the coming year is to sustain and build on the gains we made in 2007, while transitioning to the next phase of our strategy,” Bush said. “American troops are shifting from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and, eventually, to a protective overwatch mission.”

Bush also issued another warning to the government of Iran, saying the country’s leaders must suspend nuclear enrichment and “come clean” on its nuclear program.

“But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf,” Bush said.

In the Democratic response, Kansas Gov. Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusJerry Moran: 'I wouldn't be surprised' if Pompeo ran for Senate in Kansas Mark Halperin inks book deal 2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care MORE said she wanted to depart from the normal practice of offering a partisan retort to the president’s speech.

Instead, Sebelius stated, that she wanted to provide a “wakeup call to Washington, on behalf of a new American majority, that time is running out on our opportunities to meet our challenges and solve our problems.”

She painted a bleaker picture of the long-term economy than Bush.

“Our struggling economy requires urgent and immediate action, and then sustained attention,” the Kansas governor said. “Families can’t pay their bills. They are losing their jobs, and now are threatened with losing their homes.”

She argued that bipartisanship is the key to addressing the nation’s problems and invited Bush to join the Democratic majority to do so.

Sebelius then listed many of the Democrats’ policy priorities and challenged Bush to support the congressional majority in making healthcare more affordable and achieve energy independence while promoting “green” technologies.

The Kansas governor also addressed the fight against terror.

“We stand ready in the heartland and across this country, to join forces with peace-loving nations across the globe and to fight the war against terrorists, wherever they may strike,” Sebelius said. “But our capable and dedicated soldiers can’t solve the political disputes where they are, and can't focus on the real enemies elsewhere.”

“These are uncertain times, but with strength and determination, we can meet the challenges together,” she said. “If Washington can work together, so quickly, on a short-term fix for families caught in the financial squeeze, then we can work together to transform America.”