Bush initiatives build on first year's work
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As President Bush heads out on Wednesday to promote the initiatives outlined in his State of the Union address, he will be touting an agenda that reaffirms many of the stands he advanced during his first year in office.
The war against terror and his push for a stronger military were at the top of the president's agenda as he addressed Congress. When he submits his budget proposal next week, Bush will include a $48 billion boost for defense spending. His budget also asks for a doubling of spending for homeland security efforts, to $38 billion.
With the massive collapse of Enron coloring the background, Bush called for retirement security for workers and asked Congress to enact new safeguards to protect 401(k) and pension plans. He also called for stricter accounting standards and tougher disclosure requirements to protect employees and shareholders.
The president, who sets out on Wednesday to push his agenda in a two-day tour of North Carolina, Florida and Georgia, urged Americans to step up their volunteerism. He asked citizens to devote 4,000 hours over their lifetimes to civic causes and announced a new volunteer effort -- the USA Freedom Corps -- through which Americans can volunteer for homeland security efforts.
Bush said he also will seek to double the number of Peace Corps volunteers over the next five years and will ask the agency to join a new effort to aid the Islamic world.
"This time of adversity offers a unique moment of opportunity, a moment we must seize to change our culture," Bush said. "Through the gathering momentum of millions of acts of good service and decency and kindness, I know: We can overcome evil with greater good."
Yet, by and large, the agenda Bush set out on domestic issues built on priorities he established in his first year in office. Even as he called for Democrats and Republicans to work together to solve the nation's domestic troubles -- just as they have united in the war against terrorism -- Bush also stood by positions that have divided the two parties in recent months.
Riding a surge in his job approval rating in recent months, the president called for making permanent tax cuts that were approved under the $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax relief package last year. That package has come under fire from some Democrats, who question its feasibility if homeland security and military spending are to increase as proposed. Bush also reissued his call for an economic relief package that relies on tax cuts to promote business investment and create jobs.
"Good jobs depend on sound tax policy. Last year, some in this hall thought my tax relief plan was too small, some thought it was too big. But when those checks arrived in the mail, most Americans thought tax relief was just about right," Bush said in his speech.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, who delivered the Democrats' response to the State of the Union speech Tuesday night, pledged to try to work together to resolve many of the differences between his party and Republicans.
"I refuse to accept that while we stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the war, we should stand toe-to-toe on the economy," Gephardt said.
Bush, referring to bipartisanship, highlighted work of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to craft an education bill last month. He also called for improving early childhood development programs and Head Start, a child development program that serves low-income children and their families and said teacher training should be upgraded.
On energy policy, Bush asked Congress "to increase energy production at home so America is less dependent on foreign oil." His energy plan, however, has been criticized because of provisions that would allow for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Bush also asked lawmakers to work together to pass a Patients' Bill of Rights and provide coverage for prescription drugs for senior citizens, although those programs could face an uphill struggle for approval during a midterm election year.
He again promoted changes in Social Security that would allow workers to invest part of their payroll taxes in stocks, another issue that has caused political friction on Capitol Hill.
He also briefly promoted: "a productive farm policy, a cleaner environment, and broader home ownership, especially among minorities."
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