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Inside Politics

Bush State of the Union: Work with me

Story Highlights

• President proposes tax deduction to help pay for health insurance
Cut in gasoline consumption is needed, Bush says
• New Iraq strategy has "best chance of success," president says
• Bush pushes for temporary worker program
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Faced with a widely unpopular war in Iraq and a Democratic Congress, President Bush in his State of the Union address urged lawmakers to work with him to "achieve big things for the American people."

"Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done," Bush said Tuesday night.

The president called on Congress to "work together" on a variety of fronts -- including the budget, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

In his 50-minute address, the president appealed for patience with his recently announced plan to increase troop levels in Iraq, despite opposition from many Democrats and some members of his own party.

Bush also put forth a wish list to extend health insurance coverage, reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent over 10 years and limit greenhouse gas emissions. (Speech transcript)

It was his sixth State of the Union speech and the first time a president has been introduced by a woman speaker of the House. (Bush pays tribute to 'Madam Speaker')

More than three-fourths of those who watched the speech reacted positively, according to a CNN poll, though the reaction was more muted than in previous years. (Poll story)

Polls taken before the speech indicate he faces a political headwind as voters 2-to-1 are dissatisfied with his leadership.

Bush said he will submit a budget that will eliminate the nation's deficit in five years.

Cutting dependence on oil

The president also cited America's dependence on oil and the need to reduce it.

Over the next decade, Bush said, the U.S. should reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent by tightening fuel economy standards and producing 35 billion gallons of renewable fuel such as ethanol by 2017. (Watch Bush trot out planet-friendly fuel ideas including grass and wood chips Video)

"This dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists -- who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments, raise the price of oil, and do great harm to our economy," Bush said. (Bush domestic policies face battle in Congress)

Bush repeated his call for Congress to give him the power to set average fuel-economy standards for passenger cars.

The standard of 27.5 miles per gallon was last raised in 1990.

A 'broader struggle' on terrorism

The president addressed Iraq largely in the framework of a "broader struggle" against terrorism, evoking the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks several times.

Less than two weeks ago, Bush told the nation he plans to send more than 21,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq. The president conceded that the battle to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad "is not the fight we entered ... but it is the fight we are in."

He said U.S. troops can still win the nearly 4-year-old war, however, and he urged lawmakers to support "our troops in the field -- and those on their way."

"Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure," he said. "This country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work."

Bush warned that the consequences of failure there "would be grievous and far-reaching." (More on the Iraq debate)

Bush also reiterated his plan to add 92,000 troops to the Army and Marine Corps over five years.

In the Democratic response, freshman Sen. James Webb of Virginia -- an early and outspoken opponent of the 2003 invasion -- said Bush "took us into this war recklessly" and ignored warnings from many experts about the consequences. (Transcript)

"The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military," said Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran whose son now serves in Iraq with the Marine Corps. "We need a new direction." (Democratic response to Bush address)

Bush also addressed plans to created a volunteer "Civilian Reserve Corps," which would function "much like our military reserve," he said. Bush talked little about this initiative but promised it would "ease the burden on the Armed Forces."

Bush noted successes in the war on terror, specifically citing several foiled plots.

"In the sixth year since our nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers have ended. They have not," the president continued.

A healthier health care system

The president previewed his major health-care proposal in his weekend radio address: a proposed tax deduction for up to $15,000 in health insurance premiums, coupled with a tax penalty for premiums over that amount.

But the idea is already playing to mixed reviews, with many wondering how the plan -- which would turn health benefits into taxable income -- would extend coverage to tens of millions of people without health insurance. (Watch for the nitty-gritty on Bush's health plan Video)

Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania said the president's energy proposal included nothing new and criticized Bush's health insurance initiative.

"His health insurance proposal is another step in the wrong direction -- shifting the cost of health care onto working Americans in the form of another tax increase," said Murtha.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the plan will "unleash market forces" to drive down costs for an estimated 100 million Americans.

Democrats, however, charge that turning health benefits into taxable income will raise the taxes of millions of Americans.

Immigration reform

Bush took the opportunity to again push his idea of a temporary worker program to treat those who want to come to America "without animosity and without amnesty."

"We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis," he said. (Watch what Bush plans to do about illegal immigrants in the workforce Video)

Bush's temporary worker program would make it less likely that immigrants would try to "sneak in" across the border, in turn leaving "border agents free to chase down drug smugglers, and criminals, and terrorists," he said.

But that proposal, too, has its critics.

Many of them are Republicans who say the plan is a form of amnesty for illegal immigrants.

"I am disappointed but not surprised that the president has once again chosen to trot out this same old pig, albeit one with a slightly new shade of lipstick," said Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, an immigration firebrand and 2008 presidential contender.

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