Bush tackles economy, Iraq in final State of the Union

(AP) - President Bush, standing before Congress onelast time, urged the nation Monday night to stay confident againstgnawing recession fears and be patient with the grinding war inIraq.

"We can all see the economy is slowing," Bush in a bluntacknowledgment of rising food and gas prices, increasingunemployment and turmoil in the housing and financial markets.

"We have unfinished business before us, and the American peopleexpect us to get it done," Bush declared. It was his final Stateof the Union address and he faced a hostile, Democratic-ledCongress eager for the end of his term next January.

Click to read the full text of the State of the Union

With his approval rating near its all-time low, Bush lacked thepolitical clout to push bold ideas and he didn't try. He called onlawmakers to urgently approve a $150 billion plan - worked out withHouse leaders - to stave off recession through tax rebates forfamilies and incentives for businesses to invest in new plants andequipment.

"The actions of the 110th Congress will affect the security andprosperity of our nation long after this session has ended," thepresident said.

Senate Democrats want to expand the economic rescue plan withrebates for senior citizens living off Social Security andextensions of unemployment benefits for the jobless. Bush saidthose changes "would delay it or derail it and neither option isacceptable."

He also pushed Congress to extend his tax cuts, which are toexpire in 2010, and said allowing them to lapse would mean highertax bills for 116 million American taxpayers. For those who saythey're willing to pay more, Bush said, "I welcome theirenthusiasm, and I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts bothchecks and money orders."

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the war has been a main topicof Bush's annual addresses to Congress. He said Monday night thebuildup of 30,000 U.S. troops and an increase in Iraqi forces"have achieved results few of us could have imagined just one yearago."

"Some may deny the surge is working," Bush said, "but amongthe terrorists there is no doubt. Al-Qaida is on the run in Iraqand this enemy will be defeated."

Bush made no commitment about withdrawing additional troops fromIraq, and he said Gen. David Patraeus, the top U.S. general there,has warned that pulling Americans out too quickly could undermineIraqi forces, allow al-Qaida to regroup and trigger an increase inviolence.

"Members of Congress: Having come so far and achieved so much,we must not allow this to happen," the president said. Bush said U.S. adversaries in Iraq have been hit hard, though"they are not yet defeated and we can still expect tough fightingahead."

There are 158,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, a number that is expectedto drop to 135,000 by July. There are 28,000 in Afghanistan, thehighest number of the war, which began there in October 2001.Congress, despite repeated attempts, has been unable to force troopwithdrawals or deadlines for pullbacks, and Iraq has receded as anissue in Washington.

Aides had said Bush would not use the address as a summation ofhis time in office. But he did, turning to the phrase "over thepast seven years" when talking about some of the most-prizedefforts of his administration: tax relief, federal involvement withreligious charities, the global freedom agenda and increasedfunding for veterans.

The rhetorical device that held the speech together was trust inpeople - taxpayers, homeowners, medical researchers, doctors andpatients, students, workers, energy entrepreneurs and others - todrive their own success and that of the country. The unspokenmessage: Government isn't the answer.

"In all we do, we must trust in the ability of free people tomake wise decisions, and empower them to improve their lives andtheir futures," Bush said.

To watch the entire State of the Union, go to channel 612 on your iO digital cable box and select iO Extra.

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