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Bush Makes His Case

President Bush's State of the Union address mixed a smattering of new proposals with a steadfast defense of his presidency, especially its use of military forces and its efforts to revive the economy.

In the speech, which came a day after the opening of the 2004 campaign in Iowa — and a year before the next presidential inauguration — most of Mr. Bush's new proposals concerned domestic issues like education and health care.

But he also defended the war on terrorism — the hallmark of his presidency — and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

With more than 500 American troops killed in Iraq, Mr. Bush said, "The work of building a new Iraq is hard, and it is right. And America has always been willing to do what it takes for what is right."

The president acknowledged that some Americans opposed his decision to go to war in Iraq. But he said, "Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day."

But unlike his 2003 speech, he steered clear of new predictions that American inspectors will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In nearly 10 months, not a single item has been found in Iraq from a long and classified intelligence list of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Bush said his administration is confronting nations that harbor and support terrorists and can supply them with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. He pointed out that the United States had captured or killed two-thirds of the leadership of the al Qaeda network — although Osama bin Laden remains at large. He also said that 45 of the top 55 officials in Saddam Hussein's government have been captured or killed.

The president also made more than 20 references to terrorism in defending his policies against those who would bring harm to America again.

"Twenty-eight months have passed since Sept. 11, 2001 – over two years without an attack on American soil – and it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting and false," he said.

But much of the speech dealt with domestic issues, reflecting what polls suggest are the public's biggest concerns and addressing what his would-be Democratic challengers have emphasized the most.

CBS News Correspondent Joie Chen reports the president put the accent on the positive: low inflation and interest rates, and rising imports and productivity. He said disciplined spending could cut the deficit in half in five years.

Mr. Bush said he was optimistic about the reviving economy and urged Congress to take steps to make sure the recovery lasts.

"We have come through recession and terrorist attack and corporate scandals and the uncertainties of war," he told the assembled lawmakers. "And because you acted to stimulate our economy with tax relief, this economy is strong and growing stronger."

Mr. Bush's boasts come against a backdrop of some 2.3 million jobs lost during his presidency.

"We inherited a recession," Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, told the CBS News Early Show "The president's tax cuts allowed the economy to build a strong foundation that could grow. We then had the shock of September 11th, a crisis in corporate governance and other tax cuts made it possible for us to now experience the situation where all of the economic indicators are headed in the right direction."

Mr. Bush called for new job-training grants channeled through community colleges.

He also urged Congress to address the rising costs of health care with tax-free savings accounts for medical expenses, tax credits to pay for insurance and ceilings on medical malpractice damage awards.

Touching on a politically sensitive issue, he said he would support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages if the courts struck down a law saying marriage should be between a man and woman.

"All of us – parents, schools, government – must work together to counter the negative influence of the culture and to send the right messages to our children," he said.

The president also reiterated his call to allow faith-based social programs to receive more government funding, particularly as part of a new effort to help ex-convicts adjust to life outside prison. He hailed a drop in drug use among teens, and said his No Child Left Behind Act was changing America's schools for the better.

Despite the emphasis on domestic proposals, the president's defense of his foreign policy was very confident. Dee Dee Myers, a Democratic political analyst, told the Early Show that the president feels comfortable talking about foreign policy because he can be "a little more Clint Eastwood than he is when he talks about domestic policy."

But in an effort to shed the image of his administration as a lone wolf, Mr. Bush also stressed its recent efforts to involve the United Nations in Iraqi politics.

"The president clearly wanted to tell the American people that he has not rebuffed the United Nations, saying that his administration is working with the UN to transfer power to Iraq," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk "The only problem is that the UN Secretary General has only agreed to consider playing a role in the election squabble -- and sending a UN team back to Iraq."

The speech came as Mr. Bush's approval rating – which rose following the capture of Saddam Hussein – had slipped to 50 percent, matching his lowest ratings ever, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll. Mr. Bush's disapproval rating, in the poll conducted Jan. 12-15, was the highest of his presidency – 45 percent.

After listening to the speech, 60 percent of watchers told a CBS News poll they generally approved of the proposals the president made, but a similar percentage said they doubted the government could afford them.

Democrats sat silently through most of the 54-minute speech while Republicans applauded repeatedly.

In the official Democratic response, the top two Democrats in Congress, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said Mr. Bush wasn't doing enough to protect the country from terrorists or to improve the economy.

Daschle said, "Instead of borrowing even more money to give more tax breaks to companies so that they can export even more jobs, we propose tax cuts and policies that will strengthen our manufacturing sector and create good jobs at good wages here at home."

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