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Bush Asks Congress to Give His Iraq War Plan a Chance to Succeed

President Bush is urging the U.S. Congress - now dominated by his political opponents - to give his new Iraq war plan a chance to succeed. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night here in Washington, Mr. Bush offered new proposals on energy, healthcare and immigration, and he reviewed U.S. policies on major international issues. VOA's Peter Fedynsky looks at the president's annual report to Congress and the rich political ceremony that accompanies the speech.

President Bush received a warm welcome at a joint session of Congress, now controlled by the opposition Democratic Party. Recognizing the new political reality, Mr. Bush noted that lawmakers and the administration can, nonetheless, work together to achieve - as he put it - "great things for Americans." This includes balancing the federal budget without raising taxes.

"What we need to do is impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C. We set a goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009 - and met that goal three years ahead of schedule. Now let us take the next step," said the president.

Mr. Bush says he will submit a budget that would eliminate the U.S. federal deficit within five years. At the same time, he called for a spending increase for education to provide special help for children who are struggling.

"We can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future, and our country is more competitive, by strengthening math and science skills."

Mr. Bush called for a combination of public and private measures to make healthcare affordable for all Americans. These include tax deductions for lower income groups, and use of public funds to encourage private health savings accounts.

The president said energy diversification is of vital importance to America, which is now vulnerable to supply disruptions by hostile forces abroad. Here too, he urged a number of steps - greater use of hybrid vehicles, ethanol fuel, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power.

On an issue as much domestic as foreign, the president said the United States must prevent illegal immigration, without sacrificing the country's tradition of welcoming and assimilating legal arrivals.

Looking abroad, he called for a democratic Palestinian state and a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. "And we will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Cuba, Belarus, and Burma - and continue to awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Darfur," the president said to the pack chamber. T

he president said 2006 was a year when extremists struck back against a trend toward liberty in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq. Facing a Congress where most lawmakers now oppose his call for a troop increase in Iraq, Mr. Bush acknowledged everyone's desire to end the war.

"Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory."

In a response from the opposition Democrats, Virginia Senator Jim Webb accused Mr. Bush of going recklessly into the Iraq war. Webb said the conflict has damaged America's reputation and hurt the war against terror. He also called for a new direction in Iraq.

"Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos,” said the senator. “But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq."

Senator Webb supported Mr. Bush's calls for energy independence, improved education and affordable healthcare. But he disputed the president's view of the economy, saying American corporations and elites are becoming wealthier at the expense of the middle class.