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Bush carries message to college students

President Bush pushes his $250 million job-training program Wednesday at Owens Community College near Toledo, Ohio.
President Bush pushes his $250 million job-training program Wednesday at Owens Community College near Toledo, Ohio.

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George W. Bush
State of the Union
U.S. Economy

MESA, Arizona (CNN) -- President Bush touted his domestic agenda in the key states of Arizona and Ohio on Wednesday, the day after he delivered an optimistic assessment of the state of the union.

The theme of the day was his $250 million job-training program for community colleges. Democrats have criticized the proposal as modest.

"Now we got a new attitude ... we're going to train people for jobs that actually exist, and therefore requires a system that is flexible," Bush told an afternoon crowd at Mesa Community College.

"A system willing to take input from the employers. A system which is willing to change curriculum, if need be, to meet the needs of the local workplace."

Earlier in the day, Bush promoted the same plan to students and local leaders at Owens Community College, near Toledo, Ohio.

"Nationwide, our economy is strong," Bush said. "In Ohio there are still troubled times. The manufacturing sector is sluggish at best, and therefore people are looking for work."

Protesters, many chanting "No more Bush," braved a cold morning outside the college ahead of the president's address.

A woman wearing a Howard Dean campaign button and holding a sign that read "No more NAFTAs" criticized Bush for lifting steel tariffs.

"President Bush talked about what's good for America," she said. "What's good for America is having American-made products in America."

The Bush administration said last month it is scrapping tariffs imposed on foreign-made steel more than 21 months ago, bowing to pressure from the European Union, which threatened trade sanctions. (Full story)

Another protester, a paver operator laid off for the season, said Ohioans need "our jobs back" and more affordable health care.

In the past three years, nearly 250,000 jobs have been lost in Ohio, most of them manufacturing positions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Toledo Blade reported Wednesday that at least six employees on Owens Community College's workforce development staff were laid off just before Bush appeared to praise programs at such schools.

Making case for second term

On Tuesday night, Bush told Congress and the American people that the state of the union is "confident and strong," offering a defense of his tax-cutting economic policies and his decision to invade Iraq.

Bush cited progress in the war on terrorism and in turning the U.S. economy around. But he said work remained.

"We have not come all this way through tragedy and trial and war only to falter and leave our work unfinished," Bush said. "Americans are rising to the tasks of history, and they expect the same of us."

The president mixed a defense of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, the subject of criticism on the Democratic campaign trail, with a challenge to Congress to support his domestic agenda.

In remarks that often drew a lopsided partisan reaction -- with far more vigorous applause from Republicans than Democrats -- he called on lawmakers to:

• Make permanent some recently enacted tax cuts.

• Set limits on malpractice lawsuits.

• Codify into law an executive order that allows religious institutions to use tax dollars to deliver various social services.

• Renew provisions of the Patriot Act, the law passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks that granted law enforcement agencies new powers.

• Change the law so that a portion of Social Security payroll taxes can be invested into personal retirement accounts. (Full story)

• Support his temporary guest worker program under which illegal immigrants with U.S. jobs could get temporary legal status in the United States. (Full story)

He has proposed several of the initiatives before, only to see them stall in Congress, particularly in the Senate.

Appeal to conservatives

Bush also touched on some issues sure to get the attention of conservatives -- a key component of his political base.

Protesters come out Wednesday for Bush's visit near Toledo, Ohio.
Protesters come out Wednesday for Bush's visit near Toledo, Ohio.

He called for a doubling of federal funding to promote abstinence programs in schools. And he voiced anew his support for recognizing marriage solely as "the union of a man and a woman." (Full story)

Bush stopped short of an outright call for a constitutional amendment to do that, as many conservatives have urged following a Massachusetts court decision in November that opened the door to a recognition of same-sex marriages.

Bush warned that a "constitutional process" might be necessary if what he called "activist judges" allowed same-sex marriages.

The unfolding presidential race provided a backdrop for the speech.

It was delivered a day after a win in the Iowa caucuses boosted the candidacy of U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, sending him on to the New Hampshire primary. (Democratic candidates question Bush speech, Democrats criticize 'go-it-alone' foreign policy)

CNN's Dana Bash, Ted Barrett and Sean Loughlin contributed to this report.

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