Correction to This Article
A Page One photo caption with a Jan. 29 article on the State of the Union address misidentified one of the lawmakers shown being greeted by President Bush. It was Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), not Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).

Bush Touts Iraq Progress, Economic Plan

President Bush speaks to the nation Monday night in the 2008 State of the Union Address.
By Michael Abramowitz and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

President Bush told the American people last night that his strategy to stabilize Iraq is achieving results "few of us could have imagined just one year ago," even as he sought to reassure the public that his new stimulus plan will stave off a recession that threatens to hobble the nation's economy during the final year of his presidency.

Appearing before Congress for his seventh and last State of the Union address, Bush claimed vindication for his controversial decision a year ago to send a "surge" of about 30,000 additional troops to Iraq. "The enemy is still dangerous, and more work remains," Bush acknowledged, but with a decline in the number of high-profile attacks, sectarian violence and civilian deaths, he said, progress is unmistakable.

"Some may deny the surge is working," Bush said, "but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated."

Bush's address highlighted the shifting priorities of an administration that had planned to focus its final year on the war and other international challenges but has found itself moving quickly in the past month to address the growing crisis in the economy. The past year has brought an increasing tide of bad economic news, culminating in last week's global stock market panic over a collapsing housing market and other financial woes in the United States.

The president called on Congress to finish work quickly on a $150 billion stimulus package, urging lawmakers not to "load up" the initiative with measures beyond the tax rebates and business incentives he agreed to last week with House leaders. "That would delay it or derail it, and neither option is acceptable," said Bush, who also repeated his long-ignored call to make permanent his early-term tax cuts.

The president avoided grim economic talk and instead described conditions as mixed. "In the short run, we can all see that growth is slowing," he said. "America has added jobs for a record 52 straight months, but jobs are now growing at a slower pace. Wages are up, but so are prices for food and gas. Exports are rising, but the housing market has declined."

Bush appeared in a cheery mood during his valedictory State of the Union. He chuckled at the partisan rites of the annual speech, in which Democrats and Republicans roared at different junctures, interrupting him with applause more than 70 times in the 53-minute address. His remarks, however, came amid a fierce political campaign season in which many voters are looking beyond the Bush presidency to his potential successors.

In a nod to the political realities, the president did not revive the kind of ambitious reforms on Social Security and immigration that animated his past State of the Union addresses. He offered instead a menu of familiar initiatives, mixed in with modest new proposals on education, social services and assistance for military families, that his aides said stand a reasonable chance of congressional passage before the political conventions start in late August.

One new plan would devote $300 million to new grants for low-income children to attend private schools. The president also proposed writing into law rules that require federal agencies to give equal consideration to religious-based groups providing social services to the poor.

Bush, whose administration has come under fire in recent years over the poor treatment of injured soldiers, also unveiled several initiatives aimed at boosting federal assistance to families of veterans and active service members. One proposal would give hiring preferences throughout the federal government to military spouses; another would allow troops and veterans to transfer unused GI education benefits to spouses and children.

Bush's approach suggested that he remains undaunted by the low approval ratings that have characterized his presidency in recent years. "We have unfinished business before us," the president said, "and the American people expect us to get it done."

Democrats chose a centrist red-state governor, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, to respond to Bush's address. She described the stimulus package as only a "temporary fix" and blasted Bush's foreign policy for leaving the nation with "fewer allies and more enemies." But her message also struck a conciliatory tone: "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."

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