Read the whole, sorry, "unbiased" piece here.
WASHINGTON — Facing an unstable economy and an unfinished war, President Bush used his final State of the Union address Monday night to call for quick passage of his tax rebate package, patience in Iraq and a modest concluding agenda that includes $300 million in scholarship money for low-income children in struggling schools.
With Senate Democrats already jockeying to amend the stimulus package that the administration negotiated with the House last week, Mr. Bush, in his address, urged lawmakers to resist the temptation to “load up the bill” with other provisions. To do so, he warned, “would delay or derail it, and neither option is acceptable.”
Yet Mr. Bush devoted relatively little of his 53 minute speech to the economy, the issue that is the top concern of voters during this election year. He spent far more time talking about the issue that has been his own primary concern, Iraq.
Mr. Bush made the case that his troop buildup had “achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago,” and reminded Americans that in coming months, 20,000 troops will have come home. Yet he avoided any timetable for further withdrawal and, if anything, seemed to be preparing the country for a far longer-term stay in Iraq, warning that a precipitous withdrawal could lead to a backslide in security.
“Members of Congress,” Mr. Bush said, “having come so far and achieved so much, we must not allow this to happen.”
The White House had promised that the speech would look forward, not back. Facing the realities of a final year in office, with little time to win legislation from a Congress controlled by Democrats, Mr. Bush used the address to emphasize his power to block actions that he opposes. He vowed to veto any tax increases or legislative earmarks that were not voted on by the full Congress.
But the speech, interrupted nearly 70 times by applause, was also infused with a sense of summing up, as Mr. Bush opened by remarking that “our country has been tested in ways none of us could imagine” since he delivered his first address to Congress, seven years ago.
“We have faced hard decisions about peace and war, rising competition in the world economy, and the health and welfare of our citizens,” Mr. Bush said. “These issues call for vigorous debate, and I think it’s fair to say we’ve answered that call. Yet history will record that amid our differences, we acted with purpose.”
Democrats responded by saying that Mr. Bush had offered “little more than the status quo,” in the words of the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California.
Yet the party’s official response was not criticism but a call for unity, delivered by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. Ms. Sebelius urged the president to build on the bipartisanship of the stimulus package — a sign that with the fall elections just 10 months away, Democrats are aware they must show voters they can work across the aisle.
“There is a chance, Mr. President, in the next 357 days, to get real results and give the American people renewed optimism that their challenges are the top priority,” she said.
Seven years have passed since Mr. Bush arrived in Washington, fresh from the Texas governor’s mansion, with a sweeping domestic agenda and a grand promise to be a “uniter, not a divider.” But with the nation divided over the war, and many Americans already looking past Mr. Bush to the 2008 presidential race, he arrived in the House chamber on Monday night a politician with much less ambitious plans.
Mr. Bush is grayer now than he was then, reflecting the strain of his time in office. And he is realistic, White House aides say, about what he might accomplish in his 51 weeks left.
In one poignant sign that his time is short, Mr. Bush’s twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, were seated in the first lady’s box. It was the first time they had attended one of their father’s State of the Union addresses.
Looking ahead, on domestic affairs, Mr. Bush called on Congress to reauthorize his signature education bill, No Child Left Behind, and to pass pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. He asked lawmakers to make his tax cuts permanent, and implored them to renew legislation permitting intelligence officials to eavesdrop on the communications of terrorism suspects and to provide legal immunity to phone companies that have helped in the wiretapping efforts.
Yet even as Mr. Bush issued that call, lawmakers were at an impasse over the bill Monday night, as the Senate rejected two measures that would have forced votes on competing proposals — a plan backed by the White House and a short-term effort by Democrats to extend by a month the existing eavesdropping law, which is set to expire on Friday.
And though there is little to no chance that the Democratic Congress will tackle Social Security or illegal immigration, his two major domestic priorities, Mr. Bush could not resist urging them to do so. His counselor, Ed Gillespie, said Mr. Bush saw that as his presidential duty.
“The president understands that nominees on both parties are going to have their own proposals and ideas on these fronts,” Mr. Gillespie said, previewing the speech. “That’s where we are in the cycle of things.”
On foreign affairs, the speech was as notable for what it did not mention as for what it did. Mr. Bush left out any mention of North Korea; he had hoped that by now North Korea would have disclosed all of its nuclear programs, giving the Bush administration a foreign policy achievement. But the North missed the Dec. 31 deadline for disclosure.
On Iran, the third nation, beyond Iraq and North Korea, to make up Mr. Bush’s “axis of evil,” the president repeated an oft-stated message, addressing his words directly to the Iranian people and their leaders. To the leaders, he said, “Come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions, stop your oppression at home and cease your support for terror abroad.”
On Iraq, Mr. Bush expressed confidence that “Al Qaeda” would be defeated, even though American military officials have emphasized that the Sunni Arab insurgency remains resilient.
Mr. Bush has often said he intended to “sprint to the finish.” Still, it was clear in his speech Monday night that the sprinting would involve relatively small steps. Beyond the scholarship money for low-income children, he offered just a handful of truly new initiatives.
The president promised to use his veto pen to curtail by 50 percent the pet projects lawmakers sometimes insert into spending bills without full Congressional approval.
Mr. Bush called on Congress to pass legislation that allows members of the military to transfer their G.I. Bill education benefits to spouses and children. And he promised to reduce or eliminate 151 government programs that he described as “wasteful or bloated,” to save $18 billion.
But many of the initiatives Mr. Bush announced were not new. He called on Congress to amend the tax code to make private health insurance more affordable, a plan he unveiled in his State of the Union address last year. He urged lawmakers to devote $30 billion over the next five years to combating the global AIDS epidemic, a proposal he announced in the Rose Garden in May. He asked Congress to pass a measure to ban human cloning, recycling a proposal from his 2006 State of the Union address.
One area where Mr. Bush hopes to find bipartisan consensus is in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, one of his few bipartisan achievements. But even that may be difficult.
“Six years ago,” the president said, “we came together to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, and today no one can deny its results.”
The remark brought applause from Republicans. But as he spoke, his main Democratic partner on the bill, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, did not join in the clapping.
Nope, no bias here. Yet, there is! But.