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Bush Delivers State of the Union, Sets Out Agenda

President Bush has delivered his 2006 State of the Union address to Congress and the nation. Mr. Bush vowed to stand tough against the enemies of freedom, and proposed steps to wean America off its dependence on foreign oil.

The president says in challenging times, America cannot afford to shut itself off and retreat from the world.

"The only way to protect our people; the only way to secure the peace; the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership; so the United States of America will continue to lead," he said.

Mr. Bush came into this State of the Union address hoping to shore up his own leadership credentials at a time of low public approval ratings, growing concern over casualties in Iraq, and stubbornly high gas prices.

With fuel prices close to record levels and oil companies reporting huge profits, the president said he has a plan to break America's dependence on foreign oil by looking for alternative fuel sources. He said the goal is to replace more than 75 percent of American oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.

"America is addicted to oil which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," Mr. Bush said. "The best way to break this addiction is through technology."

The president's call for a strong commitment to research in alternative energy was one of a handful of new proposals contained in the speech. The others dealt with domestic issues sure to be key in this congressional election year: health care and American competitiveness in the world economy.

He spoke of the rapidly growing economies of China and India. And, he emphasized that, although America continues to be the economic leader, it cannot afford to be complacent.

"Tonight I will set out a better path: an agenda for a nation that competes with confidence - an agenda that will raise standards of living and generate new jobs," he said. "Americans should not fear our economic future, because we intend to shape it."

The president proposed a substantial increase in funding for basic scientific research and a greater emphasis on math and science education and training. He also called on Congress to provide tax incentives to encourage businesses to create and invest in new technology.

His comments on world affairs were more philosophical in tone. There were no major changes in policy announced. Instead, Mr. Bush argued the United States must remain aggressively engaged through the world. He spoke at length of the fight to bring democracy to Iraq and said he would also like to see freedom take root in Iran.

"Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you and we respect your country," he said. "We respect your right to choose your own futures and win your own freedom."

President Bush stressed America supports democratic reform across the Middle East. He says elections are vital; but that they are only the beginning - a reference to recent balloting in Egypt and the victory in Palestinian parliament elections by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

"Now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace," said Mr. Bush.

The official Democratic Party response was delivered by the new governor of the state of Virginia, Tim Kaine. He pointed to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as one of several instances where the Bush administration has failed the American people.

"Families in the Gulf Coast see that as they wait to rebuild their lives," he said. "Americans who lose their jobs see that as they look to rebuild their careers. And, our soldiers in Iraq see that as they try to rebuild a nation."

In his State of the Union address, the president urged Democrats to work with Republicans to address serious problems. But the realities of an election year are at play and, although Mr. Bush is planning to campaign around the country for his proposals, they face an uncertain future in Congress.